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Why to study cybersecurity and digital forensics in Nepal? Here’s an expert’s explanation | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Mazhar Malik, a cybersecurity and digital forensics lecturer

In an age where cybercrime cases are on the rise, the need to create professionals trained in cybersecurity and digital forensics is increasing. Over the course of the past few years, cases related to cybercrime have gone up in Nepal too, which goes to show how important it is for the country to create these professionals.

This shows the need for a course related to cybersecurity and digital forensics, which is increasing in Nepal too and as of now, it is available only at The British College (TBC). The college has brought the degree from the University of West of England (UWE) and has been running it for over a year. The degree, according to lecturers and officials at TBC, is holistic and makes the student industry-ready as it teaches students networking, programming, laws and security and forensic tools that they will learn in a state-of-the-art lab on campus.

To speak about the course, Onlinekhabar caught up with Mazhar Malik, a senior lecturer in cybersecurity and digital forensics at the Department of Computer Science and Creative Technologies at UWE-Bristol. Malik, who has been in the field since 2005, explained what students learn from the course and its importance in today’s world and for a country like Nepal.


What are cybersecurity and digital forensics? And why are they essential for a country like Nepal?

If you go by definition, cybersecurity is the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks. Digital forensics, on the other hand, is a branch of forensic science that focuses on identifying, acquiring, processing, analysing, and reporting data stored electronically. 

If we look at what is happening worldwide, it is clear that cybercrimes are increasing all over the globe as one mostly hears two things. One is cybersecurity and the other is the security of data.

In the past, organisations did not pay enough attention towards investing in cybersecurity. But, when businesses moved to work remotely through the help of the internet, then they realised the importance of cybersecurity.

So if you look at the banking sector, we are using applications through mobile to perform different types of transactions. We are using cards to perform online transactions or point-of-sale (POS) transactions. But for them to operate successfully, we need to ensure that all these transactions are secure.

Recently, I was reading about what is happening in the current market. In 2023, the cyber field will need 1.2 million people according to data published by the United States of America. Another very interesting data I read was how there were around 1 million vacancies that were not filled due to a skill shortage throughout the world in 2022.

The importance of cybersecurity and digital forensics can be learnt through this data when the US predicted that the damages to business due to cybersecurity in the world would be around USD 6 trillion a year in 2021. This was a predicted number, but definitely, predictions have a reason behind them.

Through a unique programme at the University of West of England (UWE) in Bristol, we want to help change that and we’ve been working with people in the field to come up with plans on how to make the course effective. In Nepal, this programme is totally new and The British College is trying to help solve the skill shortage that will arise in Nepal in the long run.

Are cybersecurity and digital forensics the same or are they different?

These are two different things. Cybersecurity teaches students only how to secure a computer or network and stop breaches. Digital forensics, on the other hand, helps identify how breaches take place and stop these attacks.

The forensic side of the programme basically helps students gain these skills to investigate how the breach took place and find reasons behind the incidents by applying different types of tools and techniques they will use to investigate any digital image. 

When did the UWE start the programme in Bristol? How often do you change it?

We started the programme back in 2016. But, a lot has changed since the early years. When we started, it was called computer security and forensics. Then, as years went by, we change the curriculum and made other changes to it along with its name.

We make those changes from the bottom and consult with teachers at the UWE and partner colleges by getting feedback. We ask them what was good about the module and what areas we can improve on. We take those suggestions into consideration and revise the course accordingly without compromising on quality.

This means that whatever we are delivering here in TBC Nepal is the same as what we are delivering in the UWE in Bristol. So our students over there and here will have the same learning capabilities. When they graduate, they will carry the same type of attributes. 

But will be programme be relevant here? Our laws are different to laws in the UK. Are the programmes tweaked a bit to fit the local context?

Technical things are the same all over the world along with the court languages. But, yes, when it comes to laws, things will differ. Actually, our module incorporates local laws too along with international laws. So here at TBC, they learn Nepali laws too.

But that said, laws are similar everywhere. The terminologies might change but the authorities that they need to go to are the same. Basically, the concept remains the same and that helps them to work anywhere around the world. 

The degree has a practical approach to it with the students being asked to solve problems rather than just a theoretical approach. Why is that?

One of the main focuses of the UWE is wanting to produce ready-to-work graduates. And, we have been successfully doing that. The data for 2022 stated that our employability rate is 91 per cent overall with 98 per cent in cybersecurity. 

This is only available through a practical approach. In many programmes, including this, around 30 to 40 per cent of students have a job before they graduate. 

Why? The students are taught mostly by working professionals who come from different backgrounds and are working in industries. They then help groom students to help them develop skills. Here at TBC, most of the instructors are from the industry. One of the staff at the cybercrime wing of Nepal Police has been doing digital forensic work for the past decade. 

I feel it would be difficult to deliver this programme without industrial knowledge. So that’s why the resource persons are so technical and the same skills are embedded when students are taking those skills.

Secondly, a more practical approach means students are more motivated to learn. They showed a keen interest in how to do it rather than reading about it. So we give them tasks and ask them to investigate a certain image or machine and tell what is wrong with them. 

We want to prepare them in a natural way, a way in which they are ready to go out and work in the industry. 

Does TBC have everything that is needed to make the cybersecurity and digital forensics course successful?

It does as the UWE won’t allow for a programme to start with its partner institution without them. TBC has the required facilities and infrastructure in place for this course. It is also installing a new lab here dedicated to cybersecurity students. The lab will have high-end computers with all the necessary software. These computers are similar to the ones they will use in the industry. Hence, they will give them confidence when they get out of college as they will be familiar with all the tools required for the industry. 

So this means career opportunities can be anywhere right?

Yes. Students who graduate from this programme can work in any part of the world. The programme is so broad in the sense that our students learn technical skills along with soft skills. They learn how to work in a group and learn the importance of group work. We also teach them how to work under pressure. They also learn entrepreneurial skills and learn to market the product.  

As you mentioned, the students learn different aspects of hacking and decoding how the hack was done. Is there a risk that programmes like these will create criminals? 

Yes, there is a chance, but I personally feel people who learn this in a professional environment will not indulge themselves in criminal activities. I feel people who are not part of these programmes are more dangerous than these guys who are actually coming through formal education where they learn a lot about the ethical aspects.

I feel they will have a different mindset through the training they receive, which will definitely make them calmer and more composed.

Are there any challenges that you’ve seen in a country like Nepal that might hinder the course?

Challenges are always there. One issue was human resources, but that was dealt with relatively easily as we were in constant contact with the staff here and spoke about their experiences in teaching the course. Since cybersecurity and digital forensics are new things, there will always be challenges but the college seems to have been dealing with them quite easily, which is great.

Some other challenges can be a student not having the right laptop for the course or other device-related challenges. So for this, we guide the students on the type of device they might need and ask them to upgrade their system accordingly. 

How did you find the students here?

I had a nice interaction with students who were curious about what they would be learning in the future. The session was full, and they seemed highly motivated.

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National Cyber Security