Interview: Jennifer Arcuri – Leader of the Hack Pack.

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Jennifer Arcuri is determined to change ideas about hacking – and in the process help fill the skills gap

This is one of a series of interviews leading up to Like Minds, Bristol – powered by Barclays  which takes place on September 8th & 9th. You can learn more about the event and book tickets here. 

Cyber-security threats are nothing if not democratic – especially in a world of connected devices linked to the cloud.

“It’s something I always flag up – security absolutely affects everyone,” says cyber-security expert and serial entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, founder of the Innotech™ network of thought leaders.

“It affects everyone within the digital economy who is paying bills online, banking online, texting and communicating online.”

Arcuri has made it her mission to improve awareness, education and training around cyber-security by homing in on an unusual – but often highly talented – source of expertise: hackers.

A passionate advocate of harnessing the energy of hackers to confront cyber-security risk – “ethical hacking” – she is a driving force behind start-up consultancy Hacker House.

This is a unique “elite squadron of cyber-security professionals” skilled in testing new applications and responses to disaster attacks on critical infrastructure. It also emphasises the power of “hacking for good” and finding ways to train and educate cyber criminals and young people who have started to breach code.

Arcuri’s entrepreneurial career began in California in digital distribution, technology, and film production. Her work offers an innovative perspective not only on how to improve responses to cyber-security risks – but in the process address the UK’s digital skills gap.

She believes that securing a network isn’t just about programmes to detect and respond to intrusions but will increasingly focus on our lack of cyber skills, the kind of skills that hackers can offer.

“My purpose with Hacker House was to create something that actually shows that a lot of the skills gap is just mis-channelled energy and that we’re aggregating this energy and putting it in the wrong places,” she explains.

“But the majority of skills we need are already in the basement up and down this country – I know, because these people write to me on a daily basis.”

She sees a contradiction between the oft-stated complaint by officials that the UK lacks digital skills, yet the criminalisation and marginalisation of the very people who have those skills, such as young hackers prevented from making a positive contribution to society because of the stigma that blocks them from entering the industry. She points out with enthusiasm, for example, that the north of England is a huge reservoir of “untapped talent”.

Arcuri also points to initiatives like the Cyber Security Challenge as other examples of programmes aimed at inspiring more people to become cyber-security professionals. These skills will increasingly be needed as risks grow in tandem with the development of the internet of things and shared economies.

“All these smart devices that we are using are connected through or moving towards cloud infrastructure, and what this means is that we use satellites to hold our data and these are triggered and communicated with through radio frequencies – this is the big threat to security now.”

Ultimately, Hacker House believes the root of all hacking is the pursuit of knowledge – and the startup is developing a campus and residency programme for out-of-the-box cyber-security and ethical hacking solutions.

“We do ourselves a disservice by ignoring those skillsets,” insists Arcuri. “The purpose of Hacker House is to be able to champion this kind of skill, not condemn it.”

To hear more on this from our stellar line up of speakers, come and join us at the Like Minds, Bristol, “Innovation & Ideas Festival” – powered by Barclays on September 8th & 9th. Read more and book tickets here.

About the author

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Gavin O'Toole is Consultant, Head of Research at Onyx and a journalist, author and copywriter with a specialism in finance and business.