A groundbreaking initiative jointly funded by Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen to protect educational institutions against the threat of cyberattack is in the running for a global award.

The County Durham and Darlington PCC works closely with the North East Business Resilience Centre (NEBRC) to fulfil her Police and Crime Plan commitment to help businesses protect themselves from the threat of online fraud.  As part of a project to remove the barriers educational providers face in keeping their data assets safe, the PCC has contributed significant funding towards the delivery of safety sessions to schools, colleges and their staff.

NERC has now been announced as a finalist in the 2024 Cyber Outstanding Security Performance Awards (Cyber OSPAs) in the Outstanding Cyber Security Partnership category. Additionally, two of the organisation’s young students have been announced as finalists for their exceptional contribution to the sector.

Cosmin Bianu and Jack Gooday, both studying at Northumbria University, are finalists for the Outstanding Young Cyber Security Professional gong. As ethical hackers, the young professionals worked alongside security experts at Framwellgate School in Durham which suffered a significant data breach after hackers stole 40GB of sensitive data.

The Commissioner contributed matched funding of £1,575 to enable a full investigation to be carried out and to assess the network’s vulnerability to identify any weaknesses. Following the probe, the team identified weaknesses in the external infrastructure and worked collaboratively with the school’s IT team and technology providers to boost the security of its systems.

Jack has recently contributed to a new workbook produced by NERC in support of the new Commissioner’s Challenge Platinum Award – an interactive educational scheme focused on cyber safety being piloted by Year 7 students at Ferryhill School.

Both Cosmin and Jack will be joining NERC and Framwellgate representatives in London for the awards ceremony next month.

Congratulating the team, Commissioner Allen said: “I am so proud of Cosmin and Jack and the wider NERC team for this fantastic achievement. This project aims to prevent online fraud and cybercrime so educational providers do not suffer the disruption, cost and stress of an attack. It was remarkable to see Jack and Cosmin’s knowledge and skills working their magic in a real-life situation at Framwellgate School, which quickly prevented a serious data breach from escalating. They absolutely deserve to be shortlisted for this award and I wish them the very best in the final.

“Our collaboration with NEBRC demonstrates partnership working at its best and shows what can be achieved when like-minded organisations direct energy towards the same goals. Thanks to this project, educational providers across County Durham now have a lifeline to ensure their networks and cyber security are up to scratch. I will continue to play my part by investing vital funding to increase our capabilities further so we can tackle the cyberthreat head on.”

The initiative empowers students to put into practice the skills and expertise they learn in the classroom to make County Durham and Darlington, stronger, safer and more resilient to cybercrime.

Providing support to 67 schools a year across the force area, the project has safeguarded sensitive data throughout the county’s academic institutions and now serves as a model replicated by other PCCs nationwide.

The Cyber OSPAs awards were launched in 2021 to recognise and reward companies, teams, individuals, products and initiatives across the cyber security sector globally. The Cyber OSPAs are designed to be both independent and inclusive, providing an opportunity for outstanding performers, whether buyers or suppliers, to be recognised and their success to be celebrated.