What is the Cyber Operator Attitude & Aptitude Assessment?


The Cyber Operator Attitude and Aptitude Assessment aims to seek out British Armed Forces personnel who have a particular skill for cyber work (Allison, 2013).

What is Cyber Security?

“Cyber security is a body of technologies, processes and practices designed to protect networks, computers, programmes and data from attack, damage or unauthorised access.” (Allison, 2013).

Brief History

The Defence Cyber Aptitude Test (DCAT) was produced in collaboration with IBM (MOD, 2016; IBM, 2018a; 2018b).

DCAT enhanced the then-existing selection measures for personnel already serving who hoped to get posted to a cyber unit in the future.

“It’s a useful tool for service career and branch managers to help identify individuals with natural talent and the right skills to succeed at the cutting edge of defence cyber operations.” (Allison, 2013).

DCAT was either later renamed the Cyber Operator Attitude & Aptitude Assessment or DCAT is part of the assessment.

The assessment has two parts (FOI2021/02437).

  • 2015/2016:
    • Defence Cyber Aptitude Test – entry-level cyber security roles.
    • Enhanced Cyber Intelligence Analysis Test.
    • Developed DCAT Hiring Manager report.
    • Created selectable Non-Behavioural Test.
    • (removal allows DCAT to screen existing workforces).
  • 2017/2018:
    • Developed Gamified Cyber Aptitude Test for recruiting use at public awareness events.
    • Developed the Commercial Cyber Aptitude Test (CCAT).
    • Both tests validated.
    • DCAT sales jointly (IBM & UK MOD) approved government prospects and integrators.
    • CCAT sales to all commercial prospects with the exception of the IBM denied list.
    • Joint IBM/UK MoD case study end 1Q18.
    • Gamification tool available beginning Q3 2018.

Earlier in 2013, the MOD formed Defence Cyber Protection Partnership (DCPP) to create a joint response to the cyber threat (Mills, 2021). The DCPP aims at improving cyber defence through the MOD’s supply chain while preserving existing investment in cyber security measures in an effort to protect the nation’s military capability. This joint MOD/industry initiative focuses on information sharing, measurements and standards, and supply chain awareness.

The DCAT is now utilised by the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (IBM, 2018c).

“IBM’s Commercial CCAT and DCAT exams focus on selecting, training, and retaining the right candidates for entry level Security Operations Center (SOC) analyst roles, and other IT security work roles. Either aptitude test can be administered to new hires or those in career transitions. Both exams measure the soft skills, but further, they assess behavioral traits and cognitive aptitude required to gain technical abilities. Meaning, rather than identifying an individual’s existing cyber skills, it gauges the potential of the individual to develop these talents and be successful in a cyber career. The goal of the IBM CCAT and DCAT is to make workforce growth more efficient by being able to identify individuals with the highest potential for success, and focus training and retention efforts.” (CISA, 2019, p.8-9).

In early 2021, the British Armed Forces revealed they were relaxing the rules on hiring “to allow candidates from the private sector to go directly into senior military roles, in a drive to recruit more cyber specialists as warfare expands into the digital realm.” (Warrell, 2021).

Outline of the DCAT

Purpose of the Test

DCAT comprises a number of sections and tests an individual’s abilities across a range of cognitive challenges – prior technical knowledge is not measured. The DCAT was being rolled out across UK defence for use at the early stages of technical training and service careers.

The test focuses on identifying “latent” ability rather than existing skill by assessing behavioural attributes and cognitive aptitude to acquire the technical knowledge required for success in a cyber role. This test provides a vehicle to assess cyber potential during accessions or mid-career transitions, enabling rapid workforce scale while increasing the quality of each hire in three key areas:

  1. Selection: identifying the highest potential candidates from the broadest pool;
  2. Training: improving the success rates of individuals selected; and
  3. Retention: identifying candidates with the greatest affinity to improve retention.

What is DCAT Looking At?

Table 1: DCAT (IBM, 2018a)

Behavioural1. Measures work styles/personality characteristics.Behavioural
Situational Judgement
(Intelligence Analysis only)
1. Realistic preview of cyber work.
2. Measures practical problem solving.
Numerical Reasoning1. Measures ability to use numbers to solve problems.Ability
Verbal Reasoning1. Measures ability to reason using words, phrases and passages.Ability
Error Identification1. Measures logical reasoning via pseudo-coding logic exercise.Ability
Attention to Detail1. Measures ability to locate errors among highly-detailed information presented graphically.Ability

Table 2: CCAT (IBM, 2018b)

Personality1. Measures work styles/personality characteristics.Behavioural
Error Identification1. Measures logical reasoning via pseudo-coding logic exercise.Ability
Pattern Matching1. Measures ability to accurately and quickly locate mismatches in highly detailed data information sets presented graphicallyAbility

IBM (2018a) suggests that suitable behavioural traits include:

  • Adaptability.
  • Conformity.
  • Dependability.
  • Detail orientation.
  • Energy.
  • Learning orientation.
  • Self-confidence.
  • Sociability.
  • Socially assured.
  • Stress tolerance.
  • Team player.
  • Perseverance.

For numerical reasoning DCAT utilises a cognitive skills CAT (computer adaptive test).


2019DIN07-107 – Cyber Operator Attitude & Aptitude Assessment.

Allison, G. (2013) MoD Launch Cyber Defence Test. Available from World Wide Web: https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/defence-cyber-test-launched/. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].

CISA. (2019) Cybersecurity Talent Identification and Assessment. Available from World Wide Web: https://niccs.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/cybersecurity%20talent%20identification%20and%20assessment.pdf?trackDocs=cybersecurity%20talent%20identification%20and%20assessment.pdf. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].

FOI2019/13441 dated 10 January 2020.

FOI2021/02437 dated 23 March 2021.

IBM. (2018a) Defence Cyber Aptitude Test. Available from World Wide Web: http://ftpmirror.your.org/pub/misc/ftp.software.ibm.com/common/ssi/ecm/71/en/71014171usen/collaboration-and-talent-solutions-other-sales-tool-or-utility-71014171usen-20180327.pdf. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].

IBM. (2018b) Commercial Cyber Aptitude Test. Available from World Wide Web: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/583ef9a2d1758e46ff432d01/t/5ce37252ef6f6100012b8bee/1558409812599/CCAT+eBook+AFM.pdf. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].

IBM. (2018c) Cyber Aptitude Assessments component of IBM Kenexa Behavioral Assessments for Hourly Roles on Cloud helps organizations meet the challenge of hiring cybersecurity talent. Available from World Wide Web: https://www-01.ibm.com/common/ssi/ShowDoc.wss?docURL=/common/ssi/rep_ca/8/897/ENUS218-098/index.html&request_locale=en. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].

Mills, C. (2021) Integrated Review 2021: Emerging Defence Technologies. Available from World Wide Web: https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9184/CBP-9184.pdf. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].

MOD (Ministry of Defence). (2016) Defence Cyber Test Launched. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/defence-cyber-test-launched. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].

Warrell, H. (2021) UK Military Relaxes Recruiting Rules to Attract Cyber Specialists. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.ft.com/content/92a63e8b-36a3-477d-9bb4-3bcfb60cc7fa. [Accessed: 20 May, 2021].


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