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5/30/2014
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Marilyn Cohodas
Marilyn Cohodas
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Flash Poll: The Hunt For Cyber Talent

Our latest flash poll paints a nuanced picture of how the security skills shortage is playing out in hiring strategies for the SOC.

For the Dark Reading security community the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," has never been more true, at least when it comes to staffing.

According to our latest flash poll, roughly eight out of 10 respondents say their companies are struggling with personnel issues related to the skills of in-house staff, finding qualified candidates for new positions, and having a sufficient budget to hire them.

Worse, nearly a quarter of the security professionals who participated in the report say they are “too underwater” with the daily battle of fighting threats to even take the time to reflect and answer our question.

Not surprisingly, only 13 percent of respondents say that they are not hiring, with a little more than half of that cohort reporting that their staffs and skills sets are adequate. For the rest, where head counts are sufficient, managers struggle to train existing security staff on the critical skills to protect corporate assets. A scant 5 percent of respondents in a hiring mode report having no trouble finding qualified candidates.

The point of our State of IT Security poll, which asked readers to select a statement that best describes the status and makeup of their company’s current security team, was to get behind the numbers, trends, salaries, and wage increases reported in the more formal 2014 US IT Security Salary Survey conducted by the research department of our sister site Information Week. We wanted to try and capture the nuances of how security managers are dealing with the rapidly changing threat landscape and dig deeper into how the alleged security skills shortage is playing out in hiring strategies.

The results, as the above chart indicates are, well... interesting. In my view, they reflect what Mark Aiello, president of Boston-based cyber security staffing firm Cyber360 Solution, and Julie Peeler, head of the ISC(2) foundation, spoke of this week during the latest episide of Dark Reading Radio: The Real Reason Security Jobs Remain Vacant. It's their posture that some of the most critical changes in today’s security organizations are driven by the fact that "security is leaving the IT organization and standing on its own." What that means for both hiring managers and candidates is that security practitioners need to be in a constant learning mode in order to stay on top of the latest technology trends and threats. At the same time they also need to take on a broader focus.

"Employers are getting wise to sourcing their talent from social sciences, law, business, and the like, then bringing them in and teaching them the fundamentals of security," Aiello said during the broadcast, adding that the gold standard for advancement is "an ability to understand risk and how it drives the technical side of security [which] requires a bigger picture business focus compared to a narrow technical solution."

Robert McDougal, a senior financial sector information security analyst from Birmingham, Ala., has a slightly different view. He observed in a comment titled "salary bubble" that the security talent pool will continue to remain small because to be a security practitioner requires both an in-depth knowledge base and an expansive skill set. "Those skills span many different IT disciplines and it takes someone dedicated to be able to learn it. Unlike other areas of IT you cannot give someone a step by step tutorial on information security, every situation is unique."

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to our new poll on cyber security skills, whick asks specifically which security talents are in the greatest demand. You can select three from our list of 10: communication, diversity, forensics, incident response, malware analysis, professional certifications, threat intelligence, understanding of business/industry, user awareness strategies, and vendor management. If none of those apply, please feel free to add your own in the comments. Click here to take the poll.

Marilyn has been covering technology for business, government, and consumer audiences for over 20 years. Prior to joining UBM, Marilyn worked for nine years as editorial director at TechTarget Inc., where she launched six Websites for IT managers and administrators supporting ... View Full Bio
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Christian Bryant
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Christian Bryant,
User Rank: Ninja
6/4/2014 | 5:18:32 PM
Re: Don't Forget Instinct
@Marilyn Cohodas

I can't speak to success rate since I wasn't involved in ever newhire, but I can say a flag or two was captured!  Yes, I think it is a solid approach.  I truly believe in challenging candidates for tanglible, demonstrable abilities.

 
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 5:02:11 PM
Re: Don't Forget Instinct
Good strategy, Christrian. what's you success rate when you make candidates capture the flag? Do they? 
Christian Bryant
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Christian Bryant,
User Rank: Ninja
6/2/2014 | 4:01:56 PM
Re: Don't Forget Instinct
@Marilyn Cohodas - Disclaimer:  I'm not a hiring manager, but I have particiapted in the interview process. 

For me, I put the resume aside and I get right to the point.  Start off the bat with a question that pushes the candidate into action.  Tell them your company's datacenter architecture, how many servers, the OS ecosystems, applications and network, and maybe one or two known weaknesses.  Now, the questions: "How do you penetrate our network and take root for at least one system in our datacenter?" or "How do you bring our datacenter services down such that our clients no longer have functional connectivity?" and "What recommendations would you have toward buttoning up our security?"  How they answer that will tell you at least if they are 1) experienced in doing that type of thing, and 2) knowledgable beyond books and research.  In fact, you really don't want someone (like me, for instance) who is widely read, but has never actually done the work.  

The follow-up to this is actually putting the candidate down in front of a system with a decent toolset pre-installed, from penetration tools to interpreters (Ruby, Python, etc) and give them a flag to capture.  Seriously - because I think that time is money in today's tech environment, and if you can't do what you say you can do, and do it efficiently and with intelligence, and demonstrate a knack for the work, as well as a passion for all the work entails, then why are you applying for the job? 
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
6/1/2014 | 6:30:46 PM
Re: Don't Forget Instinct
That's an intersesting filter rule for hiring cyber talent, Christian. How do you know someone has the "killer instinct" that you speak of? Is it a gut check on your part or are there quesitons you ask or "tells" that you observe.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
6/1/2014 | 6:27:06 PM
Re: ROI
Ryan,

That makes perfect sense but I'm curious to hear some examples of exactly this would work. Can you describe some of the metrics that you follow and how they are interpreted? 
RyanSepe
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RyanSepe,
User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2014 | 10:22:32 PM
ROI
I also think as security professionals, though it may be hard to correlate to precise dollars and cents, we need to show how are value is ten times that of our expense. I know it may have a negative connotation, but many enterprises put huge emphasis on budget. Its a reality that needs to be acknowledged for a business to stay successful.

Not all, but many people are aware of the security risks involved in data security. Between Utilities, Finance, Healthcare, and retail the past breaches represent a tangible threat that is now in the faces of most executives. It cannot be ignored.

What makes it easier to get executives of the business to get behind hiring a solid security team, can be to display a return on investment. I know from a healthcare background that one spreadsheet of lost PHI can cost thousands to hundreds of thousands. By providing appropriate metrics for each respectable business type in accordance with the regulations and standards mandated by that business type, you can show that its not only a prudent idea to have a capable security team, but financially responsible.
Christian Bryant
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Christian Bryant,
User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2014 | 7:00:34 PM
Don't Forget Instinct
I think one of the areas companies searching for security professionals are lax in is gauging the instinct factor.  Depending on why you are hiring the resource, there are varying levels of "killer" instinct needed for someone to be a successful security professional.  It's like any other hacking career path, whether it be security, architecture, coding, testing - each area requires a certain panache and natural instinct. 

I commented on another story about fear being a factor in not hiring a certain class of hacker/cracker, those with criminal records.  I think this is a similar thing.  You really want someone who has that killer instinct and can come in and rip your network environment to shreds quickly, then turn around and show you how they did it, and what you need to do to prevent someone else from doing it.  Do you want a monitor-watcher or a proactive resource that can save your business from nefarious assaults?  Getting past the fear of whether you can trust that person is a real dilemma, true.  It must be dealt with quickly, however.

Of course, every business has different needs, based upon size, budget and sensitivity of data.  But again, never let the review of a candidate's instinct get passed over.  It could make the difference between having a reputation for being a secure business, or reading about being an insecure business in an exploit.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
5/30/2014 | 1:49:13 PM
Re: Security Talent Pool Small
It's a great place for you to be Randy. I totally agree. 
Randy Naramore
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Randy Naramore,
User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2014 | 12:59:56 PM
Security Talent Pool Small
It is true the talent pool is small but many times the ones in the pool have spent years in the trade honing their skills to a marketable level. So while the skill level is shallow, it is often quality and not quantity that is represented in the pool. If the demand for security practitioners continues to grow so will the level of skill that is required to stay marketable. As one of the ones in the shallow pool, I say this is not a bad place to be.
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