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Gamers test out Microsoft's Xbox Kinect. (Reuters)

Britain's intelligence agencies are to recruit apprentice cyberspies in an attempt to harness the talents of the Xbox generation.

Up to 100 18-year-olds will be given the chance to train for a career in the secret services countering the threat of cyberwarfare and Internet criminals. The scheme, announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, is aimed predominantly at GCHQ -- the electronic communications agency.

But some recruits will go on to work in the other agencies -- the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and the Security Service, MI5.

The move marks a break with past practice -- when the agencies traditionally recruited mainly university graduates.

The Government said it was important to use the most talented people to help secure the UK against the increasing threat of cyber attacks. Hague announced the scheme in a speech at Bletchley Park, the home of Britain's World War Two codebreakers and the forerunner of GCHQ.

"It will be the young innovators of this generation who will help keep our country safe in years to come against threats which are every bit as serious as some of those confronted in the Second World War," he said.

"Today we are not at war, but I see evidence every day of deliberate, organized attacks against intellectual property and government networks in the United Kingdom from cyber criminals or foreign actors with the potential to undermine our security and economic competitiveness.

"This is one of the great challenges of our time, and we must confront it to ensure that Britain remains a world leader in cyber security and a pre-eminent safe space for e-commerce and intellectual property online."

Officials said the Single Intelligence Account apprenticeship scheme was aimed at tapping the skills of the "Xbox generation" who had grown up in the world of social media, global connectivity and interactive gaming.

Recruits will undergo a two-year program of training with a foundation degree course in communications, security and engineering at De Montfort University in Leicester.

They will also study for a Level 4 diploma in IT, software, web and telecommunications professional competence.

Hague also used his visit to announce £480,000 in Foreign Office funding for the preservation of Bletchley Park, unlocking £5m of heritage lottery funding.

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