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Federal Officials Say Cybersecurity Is Greatest High-Risk Skill Gap

In Digital Government panel, government and industry leaders agree that cybersecurity personnel shortage is becoming more acute
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Digital Government Institute Cyber Security Conference -- Federal officials are now classifying cybersecurity as the most dangerous skill gap currently faced by the U.S. government, according to panelists speaking here on Thursday.

"Looking at government-wide skills, we have identified cybersecurity as the No. 1 high-risk skill gap for the federal government," said Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, deputy associate director for strategic workforce planning at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Federal agencies are addressing the shortage of skilled security staff in a variety of ways, including new recruitment and retention initiatives, as well as new efforts to define the jobs that require security skills and which employees have those skills, panelists said.

The shortage of security people in government is a reflection of a shortage of skilled staff across all industries, according to Hord Tipton, executive director of the (ISC)2 professional association, who moderated the panel.

"There is no quick fix for this problem," Tipton said. "It's estimated that within the next two years, we will need about 4.5 million security professionals worldwide. Right now, we've got about 2.5 million. We need to invest heavily in training and development and bring these people on board."

A chief challenge in the federal hiring effort is identifying not only security professionals, but the right type of skills, said Karen Evans, national director for the U.S. Cyber Challenge.

"While we need a growing number of academic researchers and operations people, the area where we need the greatest leap forward is among the hunters and tool builders -- the creative people who can identify the problems and develop answers," Evans said. There are about 1,000 such people in federal government now, but there will be a need for about 10,000 of them in the next few years, she said.

Tipton acknowledged the need for creative minds in security, but he also suggested that there may be too much emphasis on the need for such elite-level security researchers and penetration testers in the industry.

"These elite hunters and tool builders are sort of the equivalent of special forces, like the Navy SEALS," Tipton said. "You need them for strategic missions, but you don't need teams of Navy SEALS to guard your coastline. There are many types of contributors to the security defense effort, and they aren't all special forces. Sometimes you need a general professional, rather than a brain surgeon or a cardiologist."

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