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Businesses Feel Impact Of IT Security Skill Shortage, Study Finds

(ISC)2 workforce study shows lack of cybersecurity personnel, resources affects bottom line

A shortage of security skills is directly contributing to the incidence of breaches in enterprises across the globe and inflicting damage to business' bottom line, a new study reports today.

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According to the 2013 (ISC)2 Global Information Security Workforce Study (PDF), published Monday, most organizations (56 percent) said that they don't have enough security staff to handle their current demands.

More than half (52 percent) of the respondents -- both security pros and business executives -- said the shortage of skilled staff is contributing to the incidence of breaches in their organizations. Almost half (47 percent) said they believe their customers are also being affected.

"The problem is not just the fact that we're short on people -- it's that the threat is increasing," says Hord Tipton, managing director of (ISC)2. "If you're simply maintaining the staff you have, you've lost ground." Compared to (ISC)2's 2011 study, twice as many respondents said their ability to respond to security threats has worsened over the past year.

Today’s business environments also are increasingly complex, with major security concerns arising from the introduction of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) technology, cloud services, social media, and new, often insecure, software, the study says.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said BYOD technology is a significant security risk, and 74 percent reported that new security skills are required to meet the BYOD challenge, the study says. Sixty-eight percent reported social media is a security concern; most respondents are relying on content filtering as their chief security measure for social media threats.

Increasingly sophisticated, targeted attacks are also putting a strain on organizations, according to the study. Only 28 percent of respondents said they believe their organizations could remediate a targeted attack in less than a day; 41 percent said they could remediate in a week or less.

"The problem is that you can't address everything at once," Tipton says. "Technology alone isn't enough to solve the problem. It takes a human to decide what risk you're going to address first -- what priorities you're going to set."

Vinnie Liu, managing director of security consultancy Stach & Liu, agrees. "You'd be surprised at how many companies buy a tool and expect it to just flag them when a sophisticated attack comes up," he says. "It takes people to do that. You can't just buy an X-ray machine and expect to diagnose your problems. You need a radiologist."

Bigger organizations are more worried about the staffing shortage than smaller ones, the study says. "In all threat and vulnerability categories, the average level of concern increased as company size increased. Perhaps the bigger the company is, the more resources it devotes to examining these threats and through that examination, gains a more comprehensive and realistic appreciation of risk and risk implications," the report says.

The security workforce must grow swiftly if enterprises are going to have a chance to keep up, Tipton says. "The average security pro today is over age 40," he notes, pointing to data from the study. "Only 12 percent are female. We need efforts in the industry and in the schools to get more young people involved, and more women."

If you happen to be a skilled security professional, of course, the high demand for workers is a boon for job stability and salary growth. More than 80 percent of respondents reported no change in employer or employment in the last year, and 58 percent reported receiving a raise in the last year, the study says. The global average annual salary for (ISC)2-certified professionals is $101,014.

The number of professionals is projected to grow steady globally by more than 11 percent annually over the next five years, the study says, but that may not be enough.

"There aren't enough security people out there to meet the need, and organizations are feeling it," Tipton says.

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Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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