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Hacking skills shortfall putting industries at risk: Study

Hacking skills shortfall putting industries at risk: Study 

McAfee’s Hacking the Skills Shortage, a report that looks into the cybersecurity skills issues faced by organizations around the world, found that 82 per cent of respondents in the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Israel, Japan and Australia believe they have a cybersecurity skill shortage. Seventy-one per cent of those interviewed said the shortage is responsible for direct and measurable damage to their organization and makes them “more desirable hacking targets.”

While the report does not include Canadian respondents and McAfee is part of Intel Security, a vendor anti-virus and security software, the study could be useful to Canadian businesses and government agencies because it provides useful insights into cybersecurity trends and gives organizations guidelines on strategies that help develop workforce cybersecurity skills.

“A shortage of people with cybersecurity skills results in direct damage to companies, including the loss of proprietary data and IP,” said James A. Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which worked with Intel on the study. “This is a global problem; a majority of respondents in all countries surveyed could link their workforce shortage to damage to their organization.”

For instances, in 2015, 209,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled in the United States alone. Despite one in four respondents confirming their organizations have lost proprietary data as a result of their cybersecurity skills gap, “there are no signs of this workforce shortage abating in the near-term,” according to Intel.

The respondents estimate an average of 15 per cent of cybersecurity positions in their company will go unfilled by 2020.

With the increase in cloud, mobile computing and the Internet of Things, as well as advanced targeted cyberattacks and cyberterrorism across the globe, the need for a stronger cybersecurity workforce is critical, the report said.

The demand for cybersecurity professionals is outpacing the supply of qualified workers, with highly technical skills the most in need across all countries surveyed. “In fact, skills such as intrusion detection, secure software development and attack mitigation were found to be far more valued than softer skills including collaboration, leadership and effective communication,” the report said.

The report looked into four main factors affecting the talent shortage:

1. Cybersecurity Spending: The size and growth of cybersecurity budgets reveal how countries and companies prioritize cybersecurity. Unsurprisingly, countries and industry sectors that spend more on cybersecurity are better placed to deal with the workforce shortage, which according to 71 per cent of respondents, has resulted in direct and measureable damage to their organization’s security networks.  
2. Education and Training: Only 23 per cent of respondents say education programs are preparing students to enter the industry. This report reveals non-traditional methods of practical learning, such as hands-on training, gaming and technology exercises and hackathons, may be a more effective way to acquire and grow cybersecurity skills. More than half of respondents believe that the cybersecurity skills shortage is worse than talent deficits in other IT professions, placing an emphasis on continuous education and training opportunities. 
3. Employer Dynamics: While salary is unsurprisingly the top motivating factor in recruitment, other incentives are important in recruiting and retaining top talent, such as training, growth opportunities and reputation of the employer’s IT department. Almost half of respondents cite lack of training or qualification sponsorship as common reasons for talent departure. 
4. Government Policies: More than three-quarters (76 per cent) of respondents say their governments are not investing enough in building cybersecurity talent. This shortage has become a prominent political issue as heads of state in the U.S., U.K., Israel, and Australia have called for increased support for the cybersecurity workforce in the last year. 

The report recommended the following strategies to close the cybersecurity skills gap:

Redefine minimum credentials for entry-level cybersecurity job – Organizations should look to recognizing so-called non-traditional sources of education. “Simply put, most educational institutions do not prepare students for a career in cybersecurity,” the report said.  The report suggested that organization relax requirements for entry-level cybersecurity positions and place greater stock in professional certifications and hands-on experience.

Early exposure – Educational institutions should expose students to cybersecurity career options at an early stage. For instance, in Israel, the Magshimim (accomplishers) program develops cybersecurity skills and identifies talented high schools students for recruitment by the Israeli military. Programs like this could become a potential partnership opportunity for the private sector and government for enhancing the technology studies curriculum and training of teachers.

Diversify the cybersecurity workforce – Workforce enhancement efforts could be refocused towards building a broader pool of cybersecurity talent. For example, governments could work towards altering rigid immigration policies that may be shrinking a country’s pool of highly-skilled cybersecurity workers. The report said many people with advanced degrees in fields relevant to cybersecurity tend to have international backgrounds.

Automation – The report said automation can augment some cybersecurity functions and offset the skills shortage. While automation will never fully replace human judgment, it can create efficiencies, which allow cybersecurity professionals to focus their time and talent on the most advanced threats that require human intervention.

“To address this workforce crisis, we need to foster new education models, accelerate the availability of training opportunities, and we need to deliver deeper automation so that talent is put to its best use on the frontline,” said Chris Young, senior vice president and general manager of Intel Security Group. “Finally, we absolutely must diversify our ranks.”

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