In my travels over the last 12 months meeting with customers across the government, I have heard a growing concern about the ability to hire skilled cybersecurity professionals. The common complaint is a lack of skilled talent and a lack of capacity to be more aggressive in proactively hunting for threats across the enterprise.
According to a report published by Frost & Sullivan titled the 2015 (ISC) Global Information Security Workforce Study, “Signs of strain within security operations due to workforce shortages are materializing. Configuration mistakes and oversights, for example, were identified by the survey respondents as a material concern. Also, remediation time following system or data compromises is steadily getting longer. The net result is that information security professionals are increasingly cornered into a reactionary role of identifying compromises, recovering from mistakes, and addressing security incidents as they occur rather than proactively mitigating the contributing factors.”
Looks like the government is responding. The federal government hired 3,000 cybersecurity and IT workers during the first six months of fiscal 2016, and it hopes to make an additional 3,500 new hires by January 2017.
The hiring spree is part of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, a $19 billion effort that includes the proposed $3.1 billion IT modernization revolving fund. While pieces of the effort are stalled in Congress, the White House is pushing ahead with the workforce part of the strategy, according to a July 12 White House blog post.
An essential component of this program is expanding the available workforce. Accelerating hiring from an already limited pool of candidates is not in anyone’s best interests. So the government’s plan includes support for additional cybersecurity education funding. Proposed initiatives include scholarships to encourage and sustain more students, working with colleges and universities to enhance their programs, and providing grants to hire and retain additional professors.
These actions are consistent with the recommendations in Hacking the Skills Shortage, a recent study on the cybersecurity skills shortage by Intel Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Currently, only 23% of the IT decision makers surveyed think that existing education programs are preparing professionals for work in the industry. Curriculum changes, including more hands-on activities and hacking competitions, are necessary to address this gap. Special attention should be given to intrusion detection and attack mitigation, which are considered the most scarce skill sets.
The government-wide recruitment effort also includes the use of special pay authorities, the addition of a cybersecurity cadre to the Presidential Management Fellows program, and increased outreach to diversify the cybersecurity and IT workforce. Officials hope to improve recruitment and training and to identify workforce needs by dividing the cyberfield into 31 specialty areas. The plan also includes a program to orient new cyberworkers to the government workforce, with an eye toward improving information sharing and career advancement opportunities.
These actions are a small but positive step toward expanding and enhancing the nation’s cybersecurity workforce, and will ultimately benefit all of us.