The UK is planning to hold computer security exercises later this year to spark interest in the field and address a shortage of professionals in the country, a programme modelled after one started in the US.

The programme, called the Cyber Security Challenge, was launched at the Infosec conference in London.

The exact format of the exercises hasn't been determined, but will likely focus on three main areas: network defense, forensics and web application vulnerabilities, said Judy Baker, director of the consortium.

"It's set up actually to give us a richer and better pool of talented people for cybersecurity," said Baker, former deputy director of the UK's National Infrastructure Security Co-organisation Centre.

Those targeted for the programme will be 16 years and older, Baker said. The programme is designed to counter a growing problem of a shortage of qualified professionals in computer security.

A study conducted by the SANS Institute, a US computer security training organization, on behalf of the consortium found that 90 percent of 255 information security professionals interviewed said it was difficult to recruit cybersecurity candidates. About 60 percent of the respondents said they expect more security pros will be needed to address growing attacks.

The first exercise will likely be a remote exercise due to a high number of participants, Baker said. The second one will probably be face-to-face. The long-term goal is to introduce participants to employers with a need for their skills, she said. The competitions will likely begin in the fall.

"If we don't get the right people doing these jobs, we simply can't professionalise cybersecurity in a way that it's increasingly being recognised we need to," Baker said.

The Cyber Security Challenge is set up as a non-profit and is supported by organisations such as the Institute of Information Security Professionals, the Information Assurance Advisory Council, the UK Cabinet Office, commercial vendors and others.

In July 2009, the US started the US Cyber Challenge consortium, which is composed of government and private organisations. It is intended to identify star high school and college students with talent in computer security and to offer scholarships, internships and jobs.