Don't Hound the Hackers - Question Our Inability to Engage Them

30/10/2015 12:26 GMT | Updated 29/10/2016 10:12 BST

A 15 year old has been released on bail in connection with one of the UK's most damaging hacking incidents. Yet, while many rush to criticise TalkTalk for their security measures (and with good reason), I personally am struck by the genius of this youth.

Aaron Sterrit has outwitted a multi-national and plunged the UK media into overload. Should he be punished for his actions? Probably. He has 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 - we need to seriously consider how and why we waste this kind of phenomenal talent.

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 we may have laughed about revealed cheaters and snickered at the email quips between directors and actors, the reality is that our digital security is increasingly fragile.

Young people like Aaron Sterrit 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, as a nation, we were engaging talent and harnessing it for positive use, we could have had Aaron teaching the heads of TalkTalk how to sharpen their security policies. He could have been invited by Downing Street to test security systems. He, and the wealth of other digital talent that exists in today's society could be being sought out and snapped up by the business world and could be strengthening our industry and credentials, rather than humiliating our businesses.

Both the education system and enterprise must recognise this, and must wake up to a changing world - where digital knowledge far outstrips what we are teaching in schools, and far surpasses institutional safeguards. We need to see greater investment in young people and technology across all fields if we are to harness these skills for our continued success as an entrepreneurial nation, rather than our international embarrassment at our digital insecurity.

The future is digital. As technology nudges time forwards, the business world must look increasingly to invest in those that will carry this future onwards - young people. Those of us who were born before the mid 80s may have got up to speed with technology - we comfortably use Macs and PCs, we get ahead with googling, we're at home with all the apps available for download. 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 than the majority of us can. We must remember that young people are not ahead of the trends, they are the trends that we see.

Most importantly for me, this digital revolution, with technology's seemingly endless change and acceleration at an exponential pace, can make something which is learned today, obsolete by tomorrow. 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. Our system is unsuccessful in finding and unlocking talent like Aaron Steritt, in the same way that it is unsuccessful in unlocking talent from minority groups and from women. Unless we fix the flow and judgement of what constitutes talent, it will continue to do so. Tech excellence and intelligence surpass social lines and can exist everywhere - if we fail to seek them, we fail our society and we weaken our enterprise.

So. Let the TalkTalk hacking scandal be a warning - not just a red light for cyber security, but a warning to the business world - you are letting the greatest talent slip through your fingers. And as Aaron Sterrit shows, this can and most certainly will come back to haunt you.