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How to Narrow the Talent Gap in Cybersecurity

Cybercrime seems to be in the headlines every day, as ransomware demands escalate and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and other assaults paralyze and damage enterprises of all types and sizes. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 847,376 reports of cyberattacks, up 7% from 2020, with a growing focus on critical infrastructure and the supply chain. The costs of cybercrime are astronomical, approaching $7 billion, according to FBI statistics.

Hoping to remediate, or preferably prevent, such attacks, companies work daily to bolster their cybersecurity measures. The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency launched its Shields Up campaign this year to encourage proactive defenses against potential cyberattacks prompted by US sanctions placed on Russia. Insurance companies, meanwhile, are raising premiums and limiting coverage for organizations with inadequate cyber protection.

As willing as employers may be to comply, one of the biggest challenges is finding the staff to implement stronger defenses. In the US alone, there are currently more than 700,000 openings in cybersecurity, a 43% increase over last year, according to CyberSeek. Demand isn’t confined to the tech industry; it’s growing in sectors such as finance, as well. Employers are struggling to fill these critical posts now but can’t find enough applicants, never mind being able to meet future demand.

Misconceptions and Missed Potential

One of the major reasons for the severe shortage is the common misconception that it’s necessary to have a STEM or security-related degree to work in cybersecurity. This is not the case. Self-motivated individuals with some level of technical skill and problem-solving experience are great candidates. The challenge is to communicate the opportunity and actual requirements so we can begin tapping this potential pool of talent.

Obviously, some familiarity with technology is a must, as it would be difficult to bring in someone with no technical background at all. But that background does not need to be specific to cybersecurity, because many job skills are readily transferable. For example, IT system admins accustomed to patching systems and investigating suspicious or unusual events will find their experience useful in cybersecurity. When I was a systems admin, I was often in meetings with the security team. I learned about vulnerabilities, and it was my responsibility to patch them. That kind of experience is invaluable for anyone considering a cybersecurity career.

We need to search out people with the innate ability to recognize what’s normal and investigate deviations from that norm. If they’ve been involved in troubleshooting, that’s a plus. Even seemingly unrelated backgrounds can come in handy. For instance, self-taught techies who love to tinker and have figured out how to build their own systems and solve problems in the process could have a future in the cybersecurity field.

Resources for the Resourceful

Let’s make it clear that a college degree, specifically in cybersecurity, isn’t the only way into this field. There are many training resources available for potential candidates who want to improve their qualifications. Self-learners can take free or low-cost online courses in cybersecurity and networking. Completing this type of training will strengthen a candidate’s resume and open up more opportunities.

CyberSeek is a terrific organization dedicated to closing the cybersecurity talent gap. It offers information and resources for students, job seekers, employers, educators, and more. Among its offerings is a list of cybersecurity training available at little or no cost.

(ISC)2 is an excellent resource for experienced IT professionals as well as those just starting out in the field. It offers a range of certifications for everyone from students and entry-level candidates without a technical background to those with years of experience who want to expand or update their knowledge. Its high-level certified information systems security professional (CISSP) certification takes commitment but is considered one of the best in the industry.

There are other less demanding options that might be a good starting point, including Pluralsight’s boot camps for coding. Security BSides (often called just BSides) is a nonprofit organization that hosts conferences to share knowledge on information security and provide networking opportunities. TryHackMe bills itself as “a fun way” to learn about cybersecurity through interactive, real-world scenarios suitable for all skill levels. Additionally, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft each have a variety of free courses that prepare candidates for a career in the field.

Talk About Rewards

There’s ample reason to hope the public will respond to our compelling message. A CISSP earns $131,030 a year, according to (ISC)2. Yet there are benefits beyond a healthy salary and job availability — protecting against cyber threats can be fulfilling in so many more ways.

For example, those with a military or law enforcement background might find cybersecurity particularly rewarding because it gives them the chance to continue performing meaningful work that protects society at large.

It’s clear we must do all we can to attract desperately needed talent into the security industry. We can do that by spreading the word about the opportunities, the requirements, and the many tools available to help applicants break into the field.

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