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Real-World Fallout From The Cybersecurity Skills Gap

Two new studies connect the dots between an organization's lack of staffing and skills to its ability to fend off cyberattacks.

New data out today demonstrates just how the 1 million or so unfilled cybersecurity jobs coupled with the struggle to keep existing professionals up-to-date in their skills training are resulting in security breaches.

The Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) and analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group (ESC) today published a new report from a survey of security professionals worldwide that connects the dots between a lack of staffing and skills to the inability to fend off cyberattacks.

Some 54% of organizations in the study have suffered at least one security event in the past year, and most attribute the events to a lack of security staff or training. Some 70% say the cybersecurity skills gap has had an impact on them.

Among the reasons for these security failures: the cybersecurity team isn't big enough (31%); insufficient training for non-technical employees (26%); cybersecurity isn't a high priority for business, and executive management (21%).

Nearly 55% say their existing cybersecurity teams are facing heavy workloads given the lack of manpower available such that 35% aren't schooled enough in their security tools to successfully fulfill their jobs.

"One of the things leading to some breaches is in fact some lack of cybersecurity talent," says Jon Oltsik, Enterprise Strategy Group. "To me, this is an existential threat that changes our strategy on what we have to do in cybersecurity."

The survey also shows that security pros feel they don't have the time or resources for training to keep up with new threats and defenses.

"It's not just a skills shortage: people that have jobs are impacted by this "lack of resources as well, Oltsik says.

E&Y's Annual Global Information Security Survey out today echoes similar themes. Some 57% of security pros in that study had suffered a security incident, and 56% cited lack of resources and lack of executive buy-in for security (32%), as major issues in their jobs. Close to half say their organization's biggest weakness security-wise is outdated security systems.

Call The Feds
Security pros in the ISSA and ESG study, meanwhile, say they want more help from the government. Some 57% say the government should be "significantly" more involved with cybersecurity strategy and defense, and 32% say "somewhat more active."

More than half (54%) want better security information-sharing with private industry; 44% want the incentives from the feds to beef up their own security; and 43% want government-funded cybersecurity training and education.

"This is an indication that too many companies are overwhelmed and felt like 'we don't know what to do .. maybe the government can" help with their security and response, says Mark Weatherford, senior vice president and chief cybersecurity strategist for vArmour. "Quite frankly, that ain't gonna happen. The government isn't equipped to do that. There are legal and privacy issues, around this that would make [privacy advocates] uneasy."

Weatherford, who under the Obama administration served as the first undersecretary for cybersecurity at the US Department of Homeland Security, says the problem is there aren't enough people getting trained for cybersecurity jobs. "It's not something where you take a class and all of a sudden become really good at it. It takes years, in fact, to get really good, as a cybersecurity professional. The challenge is the technical landscape is changing so quickly that it's hard to be that expert."

Gone are the days of security pros only needing to master firewalls, IDS/IPSes, and anti-malware, he notes.

"There are not enough people today and not enough people coming in the pipeline, so the future is somewhat bleak from that perspective," Weatherford says. "My hope is that technology is going to help solve that for us."

That means more automation to replace the time-consuming manual aspects of security tasks, he says. "We could depend more on people for analytics and brainpower, not just the more mechanical type of things."

ESG's Oltsik also believes the skills shortage should be taken into account when making security procurement decisions. "The first thing that every CISO should do when making a decision is taking the skills shortage into account. Before you adopt new technologies you have to figure out if you have the manpower and people-power" for it, he says.

"The second thing is you have to start considering anything you can do for cybersecurity automation."

One-third of the organizations in the ISSA-ESG survey lack security analysis and investigation skills; 32%, application security skills; 22%, cloud security skills; and 21%, security engineering skills.

About one-third report getting hit with ransomware attacks, while nearly 40% say they had to reimage one or more endpoint or server due to a security incident.

"If we don't have the people to respond, we're in real trouble," ESG's Oltsik says of the skills gap. "Nothing suggests we're improving. It's going to get worse."

The ISSA-ESG report is the second installment of its survey. The first installment, "The State of Cyber Security Professional Careers: Part 1," published in October, showed how it's a "seller's market" for cybersecurity professionals: half of cybersecurity pros get solicited weekly about a new job opportunity. The catch, however, is that most (65%) don’t see a clear career path in the field.

Some 41% say they are "very satisfied" with their current jobs, 44% "somewhat satisfied," and 15% not satisfied, according to that earlier report. More than 55% don't have proper training for their current jobs.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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