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Neuro diversity: Autism into cyber

Written by: Georgina Bloomfield
Published on: 17 Mar 2017

In today’s all-digital world, cyber security cannot be ignored in any industry. Companies of all types are vulnerable to cyber-attacks if they don’t have the sufficient protection. If your company harbours data, chances are somebody wants it (and they’re not going to ask you for it). The government has committed to defending against cyber threats and a five year National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS) was announced in November 2016, supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment. Currently, the digital sector is worth over £118 billion per year for the UK economy. It’s a growing industry rife with employment opportunities.


There is a large autism employment gap- and the cyber security industry will be able to play a huge part in closing it.  According to the National Autistic Society, only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid work. This has remained static since 2007. Unfortunately, many employers currently see autism as a problem. 60% of employers would worry about getting support for an autistic employee wrong. Over half of employers also said that they did not know where to go for support or advice about employing an autistic person. In fact, the National Autistic Society found that over a third of employers feel that someone on the autism spectrum is unlikely to be a good fit in their team. Many autistic employees feel they are in low-skilled work, with employers not seeing their abilities. They think employers do see their autism as a ‘problem’.

However, resources are out there to raise awareness of an industry that needs people with the right skills. Crest, a not-for-profit accreditation and certification body, The National Autistic Society, the Information Assurance Advisory Council (IAAC) and Cyber Security Challenge UK have all teamed up to conquer the cyber security-autism employment gap.

A document released by the team highlights: ‘It might be tempting to assume that autistic people will be good on technological skills but poor on soft skills. However, this assumption may or may not be correct when autistic people are viewed as individuals, just as the assumption may or may not be correct for individuals who are not autistic.’

The document continues: ‘It really helps to look at the common traits of autism positively and to focus on attracting individuals that would otherwise be missed. The common strengths of autistic people include:

  • Attention to detail
  • Methodological approach to work
  • Good memory for factual information
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Strong numerical skills
  • Different ways of thinking/neuro-diverse
  • Specialist knowledge and skills
  • Pattern recognition
  • Reliable
  • Resourceful

If you’re on the autism spectrum and are currently seeking a job:

Standard job boards are great for finding jobs in a particular sector, however there are many other ways you can get noticed by a possible employer or recruitment specialist. Social media platforms like Twitter as well as hacking and gaming forums are great places to find employment opportunities. Recruiters look in these places all the time for prospective candidates.

Cyber security consultant Holly Foxcroft advises: “If you already harvest a skill set and know what career path you’d like to follow (penetration tester/security engineer etc.) look in to company profiles that actively recruit for these roles. If you’re unsure what you’d like to like to do and would like some career direction engage with Cyber Security Challenge UK or TechFuture UK for careers advice.

‘Cyber is really interesting! There is a natural connect with a person with ASC (autism spectrum condition) and key skills within cyber whether it be coding and scripting to vulnerability scanning. The puzzle-like work, the challenging environment– it’s a wonderful space for an autistic mind. With the industry facing technical career shortages it’s a win-win situation for both parties. It’s a growing social movement, with more information and advice for an employer to proactively employ an ASC candidate.”

What are the main challenges faced by employees on the spectrum?

Foxcroft continues: “The main problem is falling at the first hurdles of the recruitment process – the language used in the job spec can be extremely off-putting if lengthy and focusing on non-essential skills. Then comes the job interview, something we all find daunting! The types of questions asked, unexpected questions and environment can all play a part to how someone with ASC will perform on the interview. Once passed these hurdles and actively employed there can be persistent or one-off issues which is why disclosing to your employer could make the difference. It’s very much an education piece on both parts. Knowing and understanding office politics and those unwritten rules for an ASC employee can be quite a learning curve.”

Having a good emotional relationship with your employer is extremely important, whether you want to disclose to your employer or not, and whether you’re on a permanent or temporary contract. Employers need to be able to put processes in place whereby anyone with an ASC can freely approach and discuss the issue if they so choose.

Demand for cyber protection from businesses is increasing. To work in cyber security, it’s essential to have a certain way of thinking. You must be logical, inquisitive, and analytical and to always be able to try and predict the future and seek out patterns in cyber activity as well as to be able to pay high attention to detail. People on the autism spectrum possess many of these sought-after skills, and they need to be considered for employment in this area.