(File pix) Politeknik Mersing students (from left) Farhana Natasha Ramly, Dinie Syahirah Zairol Sahrin and Nur Syafiqah Bahri demonstrating their Website Phishing Detection solution at the sidelines of the Focus Group Dialogue: Cybersecurity Challenge - Bridging the Gap to Industry 4.0 in Putrajaya. Pix by NSTP/Mohd Fadli Hamzah

THE world today is reliant on ICT and the Internet more than ever before, as the use of technology has become an integral part of life and business―so much so that it exposes countries, organisations, and individuals to a range of threats through cyberattacks.

Among the consequences of cyber threats are the unauthorised disclosure of personal data, online fraud, system intrusion, malicious code and information leakage. At the rate of how technology develops, cyberthreats and cyberattacks should not be underestimated as they could cripple critical systems and therefore, should be given due attention.

With regards to this, it is important to create more skilled and knowledgeable experts in the field of cybersecurity. Hence, human capital need to be developed with the right skillsets to plan, monitor and respond to any threats and cyberattacks.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching, in her speech at the recent Focus Group Dialogue: Cybersecurity Challenge-Bridging the Gap to Industry 4.0, said IT staff across the organisations and industry should be given skills training.

“This includes the exposure to the techniques used by cybercriminals and the identification of the vulnerabilities of the network system and recommendation for improvements which can prevent the system from being invaded by unscrupulous people.

“Cybersecurity must be introduced at the grassroots level, especially among schoolchildren, to instil ethical values and apply a sense of responsibility on all actions in the cyberspace,” she said.

In this regard, she commends the Department of Polytechnic and Community College Education and Politeknik Mersing (PMJ) in Johor for setting up the Cyber Range Academy, which provides polytechnic students with an authentic learning environment to help them visually understand the threat landscape via a cyber range lab.

Politeknik Mersing are among the three polytechnics offering cybersecurity-related programmes, such as the Diploma in Information Technology (Information Security). The other two are Politeknik Ungku Omar in Ipoh and Politeknik METrO Tasek Gelugor in Penang.

“Polytechnics and community colleges, such as TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) institutions, need to respond quickly to the demand of the market, by offering programmes related to cybersecurity.

“The aim of the programme is to develop students into becoming technically competent cybersecurity professionals, who protect and strengthen the systems of organisations from rising cyberattacks,” said Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Ismail Abd Aziz, director-general at the Department of Polytechnic and Community Colleges.

Elaborating on the role of PMJ in developing the suitably skilled talents in cybersecurity, Ismail said the polytechnic was chosen to venture on the realism of the idea through the establishment of Cyber Range Academy last year.

“The three-year diploma programme will equip students at PMJ with the knowledge and skills in offensive and defensive cyber security methods. They will gain skills in reacting to myriad of cyber security and application traffic flows. At the academy, students will be put through operational scenarios that include malicious and non-malicious traffic in a safe, secure environment,” he said.

For its success in establishing the Cyber Range Lab idea, the Cyber Range Academy has been given an award by Cyber Security Malaysia (CSM) in the prestigious Malaysia Cyber Security Awards 2017. The key factor in the academy’s success as an innovator lies in its collaboration with industry player Ofisgate, a network and telecommunication solution company that focuses on security testing and network visibility and Keysight Technologies, the company that recently acquired ixia - a network security solutions company.

“The efforts implemented by the industry alone may not be able to cater for the current and future cybersecurity needs. TVET programmes by the Department of Polytechnics and Community College must respond to the needs of the innovation of Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR).

“However, institutions of higher learning like polytechnics and community colleges are unable to produce graduates who are ready for the workforce unless they develop a clear, accurate understanding of what the industries are looking for in entry-level employees and incorporate these requirements into the course curricula, teaching and assessment methods, or other means. The skills mismatch is exacerbated by the lack of communication between institutions of higher learning and industries on how to develop employable graduates,” said Ismail.

Hence, the importance of events, such as the Focus Dialogue Group on Cybersecurity Challenge which saw partcipation from the industry and the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) team with Department of Polytechnics and Community Colleges and the Cyber Range Academy.

“The intention of this Focus Group Dialogue will serve as a platform for deliberation in achieving a better understanding and awareness of the government directions, industry expectations and institutions’ capacity in meeting the challenges of the cybersecurity development in Malaysia,” said Ismail.

Among those on the panel for the dialogue were Dr Aswami Fadillah Mohd Ariffin, Cybersecurity Malaysia senior vice president for its Cybersecurity Responsive Services Division, Head of OWASP Malaysia Mohd Fazli Azran, Cyber Range Academy vice chairman Tajul Azhar Mohd Tajul Ariffin, and SysArmy Sdn Bhd chief technical officer Alan Yau Ti Dun.

Upon the conclusion of the dialogue, a resolution was drawn up and presented to Teo Nie Ching.

Containing the way forward on the development of cybersecurity programmes for polytechnics in Malaysia it included the suggestion for the establishment of Polytechnic TVET Vision and Mission (PTVM) to align with the National Policy and IR4.0 Road Map, whereby the TVET Vision and Mission shall clearly specify coverage of the Polytechnic Cybersecurity Programme.

Other suggestions include the call to develop and enhance the curriculum and talent development approach to align with the programme and industry requirements; and the development and enhancement of a student employability road map focusing on cybersecurity where students have a balance of ration of on the job training, practical training and theory learning.

In receiving the resolution, Teo stated that the ministry is cognizant of industry’s input and will look into having more polytechnics provide cybersecurity programmes to build up the skillsets among polytechnic graduates.