Why the talent of the TalkTalk hackers must not be wasted

A 15-year-old has been released on bail today in connection with one of the UK’s most damaging hacking incidents. Yet, while many rush to criticise TalkTalk for its security measures (and with good reason), the incident also highlights the genius of youth.

The hackers outwitted a multi-national and plunged the UK media into overload. Should they be punished for their actions? Probably. They have broken the law and may have jeopardised the details of thousands of people.

But investigation and prosecution by the police is not where this should end – businesses needs to seriously consider how and why they waste this kind of phenomenal talent.

>See also: Unencrypted data of 4 million TalkTalk customers left exposed in 'significant and sustained' attack

The press is no stranger to stories on cyber security breaches – the last few months have seen high-profile crises like the leaking of Sony’s films and correspondence and the Ashley Madison scandal.

Although people may have laughed about exposed cheaters and snickered at the email quips between directors and actors, the reality is that digital security is increasingly fragile.

Young people are capable of breaking down security walls, but they are also capable of making them stronger. The proverbial bike thief employed by the police to help identify top spots for bike theft has become the young digital pro who can spot the cracks in a firewall.

If the UK, as a nation, was engaging talent and harnessing it for positive use, young people like those alleged to be the hackers could have taught the heads of TalkTalk how to sharpen their security policies. They could have been invited by Downing Street to test security systems.

The wealth of digital talent that exists in today’s society could be being sought out and snapped up by the business world. They could strengthen the UK’s industry and credentials, rather than humiliating its businesses.

Both the education system and enterprise must recognise this and wake up to a changing world where digital knowledge far outstrips what is being taught in schools, and far surpasses institutional safeguards.

The UK needs to invest more in young people and technology across all fields if it is to harness these skills for its continued success as an entrepreneurial nation, rather than face international embarrassment at its digital insecurity. 

The future is digital. As technology nudges time forward, the business world must look increasingly to invest in those that will carry this future onwards: young people.

Those born before the mid-1980s may have got up to speed with technology like PCs, tablets and smartphones, but the youth of today have grown up with this technology around them. It’s as natural to them as bicycles and the television, and they understand and can develop, manipulate and outwit it with far greater ease. Young people are not ahead of the trends; they are the trends.

Most importantly, this digital revolution, with technology’s seemingly endless change and acceleration at an exponential pace, can make something that is learned today obsolete by tomorrow.

>See also: UK unveils world’s first virtual skyscraper to help solve the cyber security skills gap

As such, a system with bias towards those that can recall and regurgitate abstract knowledge, both in education and corporate recruitment, fails the majority and at the same time fails industry.

The UK’s system is unsuccessful in finding and unlocking talent from the young hackers of today, in the same way that it is unsuccessful in unlocking talent from minority groups and from women.

Unless the flow and judgement of what constitutes talent is fixed, this will continue to happen. Tech excellence and intelligence surpass social lines and can exist everywhere – if we fail to seek them, we fail our society and weaken our enterprise.


Sourced from Gi Fernando, advisor and founder, Freeformers

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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