My Adventure as a Cyber Security Apprentice

My Adventure as a Cyber Security Apprentice

3rd February 2020

Nothing can really prepare you for enrolling into a Cyber Security Apprenticeship straight from school. Moving on from 9am-4pm days, with scheduled lessons and their scheduled activities is an eye-opener in itself. One thing which surprised me was the sheer volume of specialisations within Cyber Security. – People seem to look at this industry as a single, ‘top secret’ industry which only involves hacking computers, cracking passwords and catching cybercriminals. It’s really not just about that… There are roughly 12 main specialisations within Cyber Security, all playing a vital role in protecting us, and our precious data. I wanted to learn them all – I would spend hours thinking of how I am going to tackle every area to become a “jack of all trades”, when realistically, you can’t just “learn it all in one night”, so I narrowed it down to my top 3: Ethical Hacking, Open Source Investigations and Social Engineering. One of the first things I learned this year, is the importance of learning how things work; You cannot hack into something without knowing how it works, and by working with such a variety of technology day-to-day, you discover flaws in systems which others don’t see…

Experience is the key factor. You can study for 8 years, to get your A levels, get a degree, go to university, get a masters and be the smartest kid in the industry on paper – But from what I’ve learned so far in my apprenticeship, no qualification can teach you what I’ve been taught on the job… If there is something we all know, it’s that IT systems always seem to break, whether it’s the printer downstairs, computer behind you, or of course the WiFi. As an apprentice, some things break that you’re not trained to fix, but part of being an apprentice is about being thrown in the deep end for 40 hours a week – You’re either going to sink, or swim. You’re going to make mistakes, everyone knows that! Some mistakes will be more costly than others; Within my first month of working, I was told to run a cable into our main server cabinet. Firewalls, Switches, IDS & IPS Systems, AD Servers, File Servers – You name it, it was all in there and connected to one UPS. Which I accidentally unplugged… Now, the great thing about a Smart-UPS is that if they lose power in a power cut, or get accidentally unplugged, they will provide reserve battery power for 30-45 minutes (depending on the spec) and even notify administrators of the outage to allow time for servers to be safely powered off, thus preventing damage and data corruption. This, however, does not work when each power cable running from the device to the UPS is unplugged, a flaw in the system if you ask me, I had managed to shut off the majority of our systems by pulling the UPS from the rack, alongside several power cords. Multiple systems were now down, including our clients’ phone and internet services… I was then battling against time to plug each component back in and pray everything booted back up as it should… Which it didn’t.

So, my point is, although nothing can prepare you for an Apprenticeship in Cyber Security, it’s a hell of a ride full of intensive learning, skill gaining, alongside plenty of mistakes that you will not want to make twice! It may not be for everyone, but if you’re interested, I want to know what on earth you’re waiting for…

Written by Oliver Boughton-Thomas - Network Defender Apprentice