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Military veterans tend to have the kind of skills that would make them effective cybersecurity professionals, but making the transition is not that easy.

Rear Adm. Richard C. Vinci meets with the executive staff of Veterans Administration North Texas Healthcare System
Source: PJF Military Collection via Alamy Stock Photo

Organizations are struggling to fill cybersecurity positions. That may be because they aren't using security staff efficiently and so they need more people. It could also just be that the increase in threats means there is more work to do. Whatever the reason, organizations are casting a wider net to find talented and skilled professionals to staff up their security teams, and they are increasingly courting former military personnel.

"The level of training these individuals receive to protect our most critical infrastructure and carry out cyber operations against our adversaries goes far beyond most private-sector offerings and is highly transferable to a career in the private sector," Carl Wright, chief commercial officer at AttackIQ, told Dark Reading earlier this year.

As an employee group, veterans exhibit characteristics that make them particularly well-suited for the cybersecurity workforce, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) wrote in a special publication (SP1500-16) on helping veterans transition into private IT sector roles.

"Their military experience has provided them with years of cybersecurity experience in 'live fire' scenarios, working on systems comparable to those found in the civilian work environment," according to the document. Veterans already possessing security clearances will also be very attractive as job candidates.

They may also have the requisite security certifications. Vendor-neutral certifications are particularly ubiquitous among military personnel, according to the most recent "Cybersecurity Workforce Study" from (ISC)2.

However, many veterans find making that switch from the military to private sector can be difficult. Veteran-hiring initiatives exist, both inside and outside of industry, but many of these programs are not discovered until too late, NIST said. "Veterans may not find information about these programs, may not see how their military experience translates to job-readiness in the private sector, or may need assistance in gaining certifications necessary to qualify for some private-sector cybersecurity roles," NIST said.

Veterans who did not work in cybersecurity while in the military still have valuable skills that they bring to the field, however. The military emphasizes teamwork, adaptability, and responsibility, all traits that security professionals need to have. Military personnel are also trained in careful decision-making under extreme pressure using the available information.

For example, Josh Smith, a cybersecurity analyst at Nuspire, told Dark Reading earlier this year how the same skills he relied on in the US Navy to ingest data, analyze what was received, disseminate the information to appropriate parties, and take action based on the findings translate to cybersecurity roles.

Earlier this year, the White House National Cyber Workforce and Education Summit issued a call to action to increase cybersecurity education and training opportunities. One of the announcements was to encourage more apprenticeship programs to help develop and train the cybersecurity workforce. In the months since, there have been a number of initiatives from cybersecurity organizations, including the SANS Institute.

Many colleges and universities have specific training programs to give veterans hands-on experience in various areas. Cybersecurity training platform Cybrary said this week it is partnering with VetSec, a community of over 3,300 veterans working in or transitioning into cybersecurity, and TechVets, a bridge service for moving veterans, service leavers, reservists, and their families into IT careers.

Private companies are partnering with veterans' organizations as well. For example, consulting giant Accenture offers a military veteran technology program, as does networking titan Cisco. Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) was created to provide transitioning service members and veterans with career skills needed in the modern tech industry. Arctic Wolf, for example, works with the Department of Defense's SkillBridge program to provide a path to reentry into the workforce for those leaving the military.

Such efforts seem to be paying off. According to the US Department of Labor, unemployment among veterans is running nearly a full percentage point below the general population; in October 2022, 2.7% of veterans were unemployed, compared to 3.6% overall.

About the Author(s)

Fahmida Y. Rashid, Managing Editor, Features, Dark Reading

As Dark Reading’s managing editor for features, Fahmida Y Rashid focuses on stories that provide security professionals with the information they need to do their jobs. She has spent over a decade analyzing news events and demystifying security technology for IT professionals and business managers. Prior to specializing in information security, Fahmida wrote about enterprise IT, especially networking, open source, and core internet infrastructure. Before becoming a journalist, she spent over 10 years as an IT professional -- and has experience as a network administrator, software developer, management consultant, and product manager. Her work has appeared in various business and test trade publications, including VentureBeat, CSO Online, InfoWorld, eWEEK, CRN, PC Magazine, and Tom’s Guide.

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