NCSC-certified course leads the way in the fight against cyber threat

Date posted

21 January 2020


With recent data breaches at major brands such as British Airways and Facebook gaining worldwide attention, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the threat of a cyber-attack was a relatively new phenomenon.

However, one Edinburgh Napier postgraduate course has been spearheading the fight against cyber threat for 10 years.

In 2009, the University’s flagship Masters course in Advanced Cyber Security and Digital Forensics ran with its very first cohort.

The course started out as a module on a general networking undergraduate programme and after proving popular with students and staff alike, the module was transformed into a full postgraduate course and soon established itself as an integral part of the University’s School of Computing.

It was created by a team including the current programme leader Rich Macfarlane, Professor Bill Buchanan OBE, and Dr Jamie Graves, with extensive input from research and industry partners.

The course has been developed over its lifetime with input from government, and industry consultants, and key academics including Dr Gordon Russell, Robert Ludwiniak, Peter Cruikshank, and Dr Thomas Tan. It has grown rapidly over the last few years and currently has over 300 on campus and distance learning students in its ranks.

The course 

The course sees students gain an understanding across a wide range of key topics including network security, penetration testing, incident response, digital forensics, malware analysis and cryptography among others, which align closely to the NCSC and CyBOK cyber security frameworks, equipping students with the skills required to tackle future cyber threats.

Students also benefit from specialist on campus cyber security labs, and cutting edge online virtualised environments. These help the course deliver extensive authentic practical learning activities in student-centric immersive environments, using real world cyber security and forensic tools and techniques.

A uniquely-designed Virtual Security Operations Centre (VSOC) which mimics the real-life SOC environment has also been added to the facilities available to students. Through the virtualised system, students can safely identify real world risks and explore tools and techniques in scenarios including exploitation, malware, insider threats and data loss. 

The course’s offering is further enhanced by the School’s close ties with industry, law enforcement, and the public sector, with recent guest lectures featuring experts from Police Scotland, local MSSPs SecureWorks, Fortinet and Adarma, Pentest consultants 7Elements, Secarma and Comisant, and many others.

Programme Leader Rich Macfarlane said: “Working with the fantastic external cyber security community has helped us focus on the key skills and real world tools and techniques needed for our students to be successful in the industry. Producing graduates with great practical hands-on skills has always been important here at Edinburgh Napier, as well as research work with real world practical application. This can only be achieved by working closely with our industry partners.”

Continued success

The MSc in Advanced Security and Digital Forensics is one of a small number of courses certified by NCSC and was one of the first to be certified in 2014. This recognises UK university courses which excel in cyber security after being judged to have met the rigorous assessment criteria. The panel is made up from experts drawn from industry, academia and government.

The programme has also recently won the Best Cyber Education Programme Award at the Scottish Cyber Awards 2019.Rich Mcfarlane and Bill Buchanan

The course’s success doesn’t stop there though, with large numbers of its graduates going on to forge extremely successful careers within the cyber security industries.

MSc Graduate Charley Célice – who is also a past president and founding member of ENUSEC, Edinburgh Napier’s Security Society – is now a Managing Security Consultant with cyber security pentesting consultants Secarma and runs the 2600 Edinburgh meetup.

2019 graduate Alex Young, a Security Consultant at Edinburgh-based Adarma was crowned ‘Best New Cyber Talent’ at the Scottish Cyber Awards in 2017 and Security Professional of the Year at the Security Excellence Awards in London whilst undertaking the Masters part-time.

While studying on the MSc, Christina Morgan and Charley Celice were in a team from Edinburgh Napier who won a prestigious UK cyber code cracking competition in 2015. They have both gone onto amazing careers in cyber security research and pentesting respectively.

Former Police Scotland DI and now head of Cyber Security and Innovation at Scottish Business Resilience Centre, Eamonn Keane graduated from the course in 2018. Eamonn is one of a number of students who are either former or current members of Police Scotland who studied the course part-time.

2013 graduate Bruce Ramsay is Chief Technology Officer of Edinburgh Napier spinout ‘Cyan Forensics’, the start-up behind a system that carries out forensic evidence scans of devices for evidence of child sexual exploitation and terrorism-related activity in a fraction of the time taken by traditional techniques.

The company was originally based on the PhD research work of Edinburgh Napier MSc graduate Phil Penrose into forensic triage. The triage work was actually started as Phil’s MSc ASDF dissertation project, with Phil himself being a student on the very first ever cohort of the Masters, 10 years ago.The Cyan Forensics' team picks up another award

Cyan Forensics is now successfully working with many law enforcement agencies and recently won its first American partnership with the National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), and is leading the field in digital forensic triage.

Cyan Forensics’ CTO Bruce Ramsay is very positive about the Masters course.

He said: “The MSc packs in a lot, and is an excellent foundation for moving into the industry. I’m proud to be a graduate from the course, and it offered me the chance to work with Phil Penrose on research with real world application, leading to the Cyan Forensics spin out itself. As the company has gone from strength to strength we continue to maintain our links with both Edinburgh Napier and Phil.”

The strength of the course’s alumni is something that programme leader Rich Macfarlane takes great pride in.

He added: “Working with such a variety of students on the MSc is fantastic. From students coming straight from an undergraduate degree to law enforcement, military and experienced industry security professionals. We’ve tried to encourage honest feedback from alumni on the course to help us develop, and it’s amazing the positive comments on how it helped them get to where they are now. It’s also been brilliant how many keep in touch via our amazing external cyber security community, such as with Cyber Scotland Connect (CSC), and the number who have come back and spoken to our students, and support our events and student cyber sec society ENUSEC.”

For more information on the MSc in Advanced Security & Digital Forensics, please visit here.

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