China has better hackers than us

The failure to teach computer science in schools and universities bites back

The Register reports on new statistics released by the coding site Interview Street which illustrate the dominance of developing economies in the field of information technology.

The site offers jobseekers tricky coding challenges to solve, with the idea being that the coders who have objectively demonstrated their merit will get picked up by big tech firms (it seems to work; Business Insider claims that Facebook and Zynga recruit from the site). They also have leaderboards, with the best candidate's countries listed. And guess who dominates the boards:

It's not just China. Over half of the top fifty hackers (that's "proficient at using computers", not "cyber-terrorist") are from BRICS countries, and although the US makes a showing, the highest Briton is 79th. Well done anyway, "srowley".

The Register's Phil Muncaster argues that our poor form is a consequence of the decline in focus given to science and technology, writing:

The government’s announcement last year of an overhaul to GCSE and A-Level exams to include more focus on coding and programming is a step in the right direction but fails to address the basic fact that sci-tech courses don’t have the requisite cool to attract large numbers of students.

Of course, China's lead may mean little if they continue to cordon their citizens off from the rest of the internet. Unless, that is, their lead in computer science is viewed, not as an economic issue, but as a military one. The great international relations scholar Joseph Nye warned today:

The world is only just beginning to see glimpses of cyber war – in the denial-of-service attacks that accompanied the conventional war in Georgia in 2008, or the recent sabotage of Iranian centrifuges. . . It is time for states to sit down and discuss how to limit this threat to world peace.

A Chinese computer user visits Ali Baba. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.