Don’t Forget Investments in Cyber Talent

At McAfee we’re dedicated to providing the most comprehensive and effective toolsets to defend against dangerous cyber threats. This mission is at the core of why we exist as a company. And as cybersecurity experts in DC, we recognize the important components that go into an effective cybersecurity strategy for government entities. These organizations need the best firewall, the most sophisticated diagnostic and monitoring tools and the most advanced threat detection technology (the Security Connected platform that ties them all together doesn’t hurt either).

But as our country thinks about making the best investments to protect our cyber infrastructure, we must not forget the most critical asset: the people. The most advanced technology in the world is not useful unless it is paired with the people who know how to leverage it. With cybercrime on the rise and cybersecurity increasingly becoming integrated into national defense strategies, the demand of cyber experts has never been higher.

Unfortunately, on the personnel front, we still face challenges as a country.  A recent poll by Frost & Sullivan, Booz Allen Hamilton and (ISC)2 showed that 56 percent of cybersecurity professionals feel that their organizations are understaffed in this regard. This is true across the public and private sector, with agencies like DHS finding they are unable to maintain the staff levels to meet demand for cyber services. We need a plan to combat this shortage and prepare the next generation of IT workers to jump into the ever-important field of cybersecurity.

So what would this plan look like? Solving this problem will require clear public/private cooperation, strong leadership and a commitment to setting priorities. That isn’t to say that we need regulation or legislation right now (as we saw with the rollout of the NIST framework, these aren’t essential ingredients for successful cybersecurity initiatives). What we do need is to make sure there is an integrated effort between government and industry to set priorities and work toward a common goal of increasing education and access to cybersecurity jobs.

We have many of the pieces in place already. In the DC area for example, 20 of the top universities, colleges and community colleges offer programs in computer science and IT. That being said, industry needs to take a more proactive role to work with these academic institutions to promote the importance of cybersecurity and the rewards of a cybersecurity career to young people enrolled in these programs. Many other growing industries, like energy and healthcare, engage in partnerships with universities and colleges to attract talented young people from the beginning. On the government side, we know that the military engages in on-campus recruitment through programs like ROTC. There is no reason that cybersecurity branches of government organizations could not do the same.

In addition to education, we need to do outreach to professionals about cybersecurity jobs. Last year, the average cybersecurity professional made $116,000. And the industry accepts all professionals, ranging from Ph.Ds and masters degree holders down to individuals with just a high school education or associate’s degree (who can still pull in a salary of above $90,000 on average). As an industry, it’s important to get out the message about these opportunities to the right audiences.

Despite some of the bad news we’ve heard about the cybersecurity talent shortage, there have been a few bright spots. As part of the DoD’s strategic shift toward cybersecurity, the Pentagon recently announced that it will be tripling its security staff to 6,000 professionals by 2016 – a huge step in the right direction. With personnel investments like these, defense agencies are putting their ‘money where their mouths are’ on the shift to cybersecurity priorities.

With cybersecurity in the news every day, we are really starting to grab the public’s attention on this issue.  We encourage readers to get the word out that our industry needs bright, talented, eager people who are looking for rewarding careers. It’s a national imperative to find people like this, and a rewarding experience for individuals who join the industry.


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