Why Lack of Qualified Cyber Security Workforce is a Critical Vulnerability for Many Businesses
There’s WannaCry. There’s Petya. There’s NotPetya. These cyber threats have hugged the headlines in the past few days. There’s one cyber threat that remains as a critical vulnerability for many businesses: lack of qualified cyber security workforce.
Cyber Attacks Outpace Cyber Defense
According to Symantec, 430 million new unique pieces of malware were discovered in 2015. At the close of 2015, Symantec added, 191 million records were exposed as a result of cyber attacks.
“Attacks outpace defense, and one reason for this is the lack of an adequate cyber security workforce,” said the Center for Strategic and International Studies in its study called “Hacking the Skills Shortage: A study of the international shortage in cyber security skills”.
A report from Frost & Sullivan and ISC² found that by 2020, more than 1.5 million global cyber security positions will be unfilled. Frost & Sullivan and ISC² revealed that 45 percent of hiring managers reported that they’re struggling to fill additional information security positions despite the increase of security spending across the board for technology, rising average annual salaries and high rates of job satisfaction.
Five years ago, cyber threat wasn’t part of the top 10 risks (it only ranked 12th) prioritized by corporate boards according to Lloyds’ 2011 annual risk survey.
Corporate attitude towards cyber security has drastically changed in recent years. A Forbes report found that four financial institutions – J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo – spent more than $1.5 billion on cyber security in 2015. In a live interview on Bloomberg in 2015, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said that cyber security is the bank’s only business unit with no budget limit.
In 2017, PwC’s global CEO survey found that cyber threat is the top five risks on CEOs’ minds, behind only to availability of key skills, volatile energy costs and changing consumer behavior.
Delay of Hiring Cyber Security Workforce Leaves Businesses Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks
The 2017 state of cyber security survey by ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association) found it takes six months or longer to fill priority cyber security and information security positions in more than 1 in 4 companies around the globe.
“When positions go unfilled, organizations have a higher exposure to potential cyber attacks. It’s a race against the clock,” said Christos Dimitriadis, ISACA board chair.
For its part, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “The continued skills shortage creates tangible risks to organizations.” In the study conducted by the center, 1 in 4 respondents said their organizations have lost proprietary data as a result of their inability to maintain adequate cyber security staff.
Lack of Qualified Applicants
The ISACA report showed that compared to other corporate job openings, which garner 60 to 250 applicants, cyber security opening receives fewer applicants.
Fifty-nine percent of the organizations surveyed by ISACA reported that for each cyber security opening, they only receive at least 5 applicants, and only 13 percent receive 20 or more applicants. Sixteen percent of North American respondents in the ISACA survey indicated that cyber security opening receives at least 20 applicants.
Compounding the problem of lack of applicants for cyber security opening is the problem of qualified applicants. ISACA board chair said, “As enterprises invest more resources to protect data, the challenge they face is finding top-flight security practitioners who have the skills needed to do the job.”
Sixty-four percent of the respondents of the ISACA survey said half or less of their applicants for cyber security position are qualified, while 35 percent of the survey respondents said that less than 25 percent of applicants are qualified.
When asked to identify the most important attributes of a qualified applicant, respondents of the ISACA survey ranked practical verification or hands-on experience as the most important; reference/personal endorsement is ranked second; certifications is ranked third; formal education is ranked fourth; and specific training is ranked fifth.
Making things worse is the “security fatigue” of non-cyber security personnel. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defined security fatigue as a “weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security”.
A NIST study found that a majority of computer users experienced security fatigue that often results in risky computing behavior in the workplace and in their personal lives.
“The finding that the general public is suffering from security fatigue is important because it has implications in the workplace and in people’s everyday life,” cognitive psychologist and co-author of the NIST study Brian Stanton said.
“Years ago, you had one password to keep up with at work,” computer scientist and co-author of the NIST study Mary Theofanos said. “Now people are being asked to remember 25 or 30. We haven’t really thought about cyber security expanding and what it has done to people.”
The NIST study found that security fatigue results to feelings of resignation and loss of control. This weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security, the NIST study found, can lead to choosing the easiest option among alternatives, behaving impulsively, and failing to follow security rules.
How to Remedy the Cyber Security Workforce Shortfall
Here are three recommendations on how to remedy the cyber security workforce shortfall:
1. Accept Non-Traditional Sources of Education
The Center for Strategic and International Studies study suggested that hiring managers should put less emphasis on degree requirements especially for entry-level cyber security positions, and instead place greater emphasis on hands-on experience and professional certifications.
2. Diversify the Cyber Security Workforce
A number of studies have shown that women and minorities are underrepresented in the field of cyber security. Opening this field to women and minorities will diversify the cyber security workforce and will also expand the talent pool.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies study revealed that organizations are looking to automate cyber security functions to offset the skills shortage. Cyber security automation generates efficiencies. Efficient processes allow cyber security personnel to focus their talent and time on cyber threats that need human intervention.
Steve E. Driz