Nearly half the graduates and trainees hired this year by

BAE Systems will go into its cyber and security services business, as companies seek to shore up defences against the growing cyber threat.

The defence and aerospace group said its recruitment plans reflected the nation's increasing need for cyber security. Cyber attacks are costing the economy up to 27bn a year, according to the National Audit Office.

The NAO has warned it could take 20 years to close a skills gap because the number of IT and cyber security professionals has not risen in line with the growth of the internet economy.

At the same time the UK, with its strong history in fields such as cryptography, has the opportunity to be a world leader in supplying services to tackle the global problem.

BAE said that of the 293 graduates and trainees it will recruit this year, more than 44 per cent 130 would join Detica, a subsidiary that supplies cyber skills and expertise. They will include graduates in IT, engineering, maths and physics.

Martin Sutherland, Detica's managing director, said: "Detica has over 2,600 staff globally but we're planning on recruiting 600 people this year, of whom 130 will be graduates based in the UK."

He added: "Our growth reflects a huge demand for technologies which defend against cyber attack, combat fraud and help businesses effectively manage the sometimes overwhelming amounts of data available to them."

In 2010 the government boosted spending on its National Cyber Security Programme by 650m over four years. It plans to overhaul IT teaching in schools and make cyber security part of a future GCSE computer science syllabus.

But the NAO warned that the skill shortage was not limited to IT workers. Psychologists and risk managers as well as specialist police, lawyers and accountants were also needed to manage and mitigate threats.

Companies are starting to respond to the threat.

Qinetiq, the defence technology company, is joining Sophos, Cassidian and Raytheon in supporting a Cabinet Office-backed cyber security schools programme to attract young people into the profession. Students will compete for a 1,000 prize by developing and cracking online codes. Qinetiq, BT, IBM, Cassidian, Crest and Atos are working with E-skills UK, the sector skills council for information technology, to develop degree-level apprenticeships in cyber security. Currently only about 7 per cent of information security professionals are under 29, highlighting the need to attract more young talent.

BT, the telecoms group, has a security academy to help its staff acquire more skills, either through informal education or academic qualifications and PhDs.

"What's new is that employers are coming together for the first time to collaborate to put solutions together for this problem," said Margaret Sambell, director of strategy at E-skills UK.

"Up until now people have been growing increasingly concerned about it but there hasn't really been a mechanism for resolving it."

Bill Walker, security analyst at QA, an IT training firm, said business's response to the cyber threat was mixed.

"Some are putting a lot of money, time and effort into it but others are burying their heads in the sand and thinking it's not their problem or that it is a technical problem with outsourced IT."

He said more than a third of companies lacked an IT security policy covering issues such as how staff can use tablets, smartphones and home computers to link with their company's network.

QA and CM trained 2,500 people in cyber security last year, a rapidly growing part of its business, underlining opportunities for technology and training companies to sell their services.

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