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Many Cybersecurity Job Candidates Are Subpar, While On-the-Job Training Falls Short

With demand for skilled cybersecurity workers so high, is it really surprising that most companies are seeing fewer qualified applicants?

Half of cybersecurity professionals do not believe they are prepared to respond to a cyberattack, with both lack of skills and training at fault, according to a survey of cybersecurity professionals published by training firm Cyberbit.

While the majority of respondents — 58% — said they felt most comfortable with the level of their technical cyber-defensive skills, professionals in enterprise security operations centers (SOCs) were least confident in two important skill areas for detecting intruders: network monitoring and intrusion detection, with 42% and 45%, respectively, considering those skills "ready," according to the survey of more than 100 cybersecurity professionals from 17 countries.

Companies need to keep SOC workers ready to detect attacks early and respond to intrusions quickly, says Adi Dar, CEO of Israel-based Cyberbit.

"With every sports team, if you don't train as a team, there is no way they will be able to work together at game time," he says. "I don't know why companies expect a team that has not trained together under pressure to work well when there is an attack."

The training regimen of cybersecurity professionals in enterprise SOCs remains a problem, especially because demand for cybersecurity professionals remains high. In April, jobs board Indeed.com saw postings for technology and cybersecurity professionals drop 30%. However, those categories did better than the overall market during the pandemic, accounting for an 11% greater share of the posted positions. 

Prior to the pandemic, the cybersecurity jobs market had reached a steady state of high demand, with fewer skilled workers applying for positions. The logical result of the trend is that companies would see a large number of less-than-qualified candidates for cybersecurity analysts and managerial positions.

The Cyberbit survey found most respondents considered the applicant pool to be weak, with less than half of all candidates qualified for the position for which they applied.

"There is a gap. There is a shortage, for sure. There is a huge amount of unfilled positions in the US and, by the way, globally," says Dar. "What people tend to ignore is that not all professions are the same."

The entry level for most companies is as a Tier 1 analyst in the SOC, triaging security alerts and passing potential intrusions to more experienced professionals. With the right training an 18-year-old technically inclined worker can become a Tier 1 analyst in less than six months, Dar says. 

Yet for higher level positions, a greater range of skills are needed, and on-the-job training opportunities for those higher level skills are not always available. While almost three-quarters of security professionals consider the training their companies provide to be impactful, Dar says the training is not the right kind.

"What we are missing, and by 'we' I mean the industry, is we have not done a good job of building up programs to build skills of SOC workers," he says. "If you don't really improve the key skills of your SOC team, they will not have the skills when you need them."

Because on-the-job training typically only improves skills needed to do the current work and does not focus on adding new skills, especially those needed during an attack, training has to change, Cyberbit states in the report.

"SOCs are becoming proactive, transitioning from an 'alert center' to a threat hunting and incident response center, strongly relying on the skill level of its staff," the company says. "Moving away from on-the-job and course-based training to hands-on training was heavily favored by respondents who are looking to improve their technical skillsets."

Cybersecurity teams and human resources need to communicate about how best to vet candidates, the report states. While nearly a quarter of companies use a task or a quiz to evaluate potential cybersecurity candidates, the vast majority (70%) only use a conversation with candidates to gauge suitability, according to the survey. 

"There is quite a large disconnect between the cybersecurity leadership and HR in terms of what are the exact skillsets that HR should be searching for," says Steve Burg, director of product at Cyberbit. "Because HR is not well-enough educated on the skills they are looking for, they are also missing which applicants are qualified and which are not. And evaluations are mostly happening through conversations."

As part of its hands-on training approach, Cyberbit created the International Cyber League in early January. Its first cyber training contest is the America's Cyber Cup.

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