Why Customs spent £16,000 on learning to hack

Hacker in the shadows

HM Revenue & Customs has spent £262,251 on cyber security training for its staff in the past two financial years, according to data was obtained and analysed under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The FOI response revealed that £150,456 was spent in 2019-20 and £111,795 year to April. This equated to 149 training enrollments for staff operating in the Chief Digital and Information Officer Group, while all HMRC staff had to complete a compulsory course on phishing attacks.

The most popular security training course amongt staffers in the Chief Digital and Information Officer Group was to become certified in the Art of Hacking, which saw 12 attendants at a cost of £15,978, according to the Parliament Street think tank.

The most expensive security training course this year was a residential course to become a Certified Cloud Security Professional. This cost £34,103 to train seven staffers.

Additionally, 11 staffers went on a six-day bootcamp to become a Certified Information Systems Security Professional, two trained to become certified in Ethical Hacking, and nine enrolled in an ‘introduction to Cyber Security’ course.

HMRC is one of the most impersonated organisations in the UK for cyber scams. It was even revealed that Covid-19 has sparked a 73 per cent surge in HMRC-branded phishing scams. According to experts in the cyber security field, HMRC should be commended for their investment in continued training for all staff.

It’s critical that organisations like HMRC ensure they have complete visibility into the security standards across all devices

Security expert Edward Blake, Area Vice President EMEA of Absolute Software said: “Organisations which handle large volumes of personal financial information like HMRC are a top target for cyber criminals, so ensuring staff are fully trained with the latest cyber skills is essential to prevent a potential data breach.

“With the pandemic forcing many employees to work from home, it’s also critical that organisations like HMRC ensure they have complete visibility into the security standards across all devices such as laptops, to ensure encryption is turned on and cyber protection is in place for each and every employee.

“It’s also important that organisations can track, freeze and wipe lost or stolen devices, in the event of loss or theft, to keep taxpayer data completely safe from outsider threats.”

Cyber specialist Tim Sadler, CEO of Tessian said: “Security training plays an extremely important role, but it needs to be more than just a compulsory, one-off session if the learnings are going to stick. As companies invest heavily in security training, they must ensure that the programmes resonate and help employees think twice before clicking on a scam.

“It’s telling that staff were most interested in a training course on the art of hacking. Research shows that people learn best when training is relevant and contextual.

“So educating staff on the ways they could be targeted in phishing emails and teaching them the techniques that cybercriminals use to trick them, is a really effective way of raising awareness of threats and helping people to realise they are being scammed. It’s a shift away from how training has traditionally been delivered, but it’ll drive lasting behavioural changes as a result.”

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