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How Many People Does It Take to Defend a Network?

The question is hard to answer because there aren't enough cybersecurity pros to go around.

Joshua Douglas

May 16, 2017

3 Min Read

How many people does it take to defend a network? The short answer is: more than most organizations can afford. This means real danger as the number of attacks against our collective enterprises increases exponentially year after year.

To have full 24/7 capability of proactive cyber hunting and monitoring, midsize organizations need a team of at least 10 experienced cybersecurity experts, and that could easily increase to 25 for larger organizations in need of responding to and mitigating regular incidents. Although this seems to be a simple answer, it's not a practical one. Even if you could afford to hire 10 people, there aren't enough cybersecurity professionals to fill these roles, and talent retention comes at a steep cost.

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The global cybersecurity workforce will have 1 million to 2 million unfilled jobs by 2019, according to a survey conducted by research specialist Vanson Bourne, commissioned by Intel Security. In the US alone, about 209,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled in 2015, reports Peninsula Press, and the gap continues to expand. Those are some sobering statistics. Industry executives argue that even if you can hire staff, it takes five to six years to train a cybersecurity professional to perform at the level required to defend against current threats. No one can afford to wait five or six years to train an in-house staff because the tactics deployed by cyber adversaries evolve daily.

Advanced targeted attacks have led to a cyber arms race of sorts, one that prices most small and midsize enterprises out of the competition, while putting severe resource constraints on even the largest organizations. Add to this the significant cybersecurity talent gap in the workforce, and it appears unlikely that any organization can effectively out-hire the cyberthreat.

This is where we have to face the "make/buy" decision. Building your own cyberteam isn’t practical for many companies. To deal with the problem immediately, there is the option to outsource cybersecurity to capable threat hunters. This way organizations get the resources they need in both personnel and technology to shift the burden to the attackers to find a softer target.

Hunters use behavioral analysis to continually counter their evasive human adversaries. Of course, since successful threat hunting is predominately a human-based activity, it takes a highly skilled and experienced staff to implement an effective 24/7 program. 

Although some are quick to point to automation as the answer, even advanced automated systems can detect only so much, and cyber professionals are still required for the most sophisticated threats. Even though prevention, monitoring, and remediation tools alone are inadequate, threat hunting — assisted with security orchestration — has emerged as the most effective approach to cybersecurity, reducing dwell time and shifting the financial burden to the attackers. 

When it comes to cybersecurity, perhaps a better quantitative question for organizational leadership to consider than the one we began with would be, "How many attackers are already lurking on my networks, since I don't have a capable threat-hunting team in place?" The future of your organization might depend on the answer to this question.

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About the Author(s)

Joshua Douglas

Chief Strategy Officer, Raytheon

Joshua Douglas has nearly two decades of experience in helping global enterprises and government agencies secure their most prized business/mission assets. During his 10+ years at Raytheon, he has served as the CTO for Forcepoint, overseen Raytheon's Cyber Security Intelligence Operations, Malware Concepts, Security Infrastructure Operations, and Research Technologies, tasked with producing effective forward-looking cyber-software solutions to contain and control advanced threats. These solutions are used to help commercial and government entities protect their enterprises and the global cyber supply chain from ever-changing advanced persistent threats and malware.

Prior to joining Raytheon, Joshua had a successful track record in network security operations and engineering management positions, securing enterprise environments while promoting contextual response. Prior employers include Enterasys Networks, Kronos, Genuity, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and other prominent enterprises. Joshua earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Appalachian State University and currently holds a number of technical computer and network security certifications.

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