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10:19 AM
Mike Rothman
Mike Rothman

Security Minor Leagues

The security skills gap continues to expand as more companies realize what they need and, more importantly what they don't have. We need a security minor league system to meet the demand

I spend a decent amount of time with CISO-types, and inevitably there are a few topics of conversation that bubble to the top. Advanced attacks is on the list. Most organizations of scale are dealing with some type of advanced attacker and have lots of great stories about being compromised. Many struggle with mobility given that executives want everything on their iPads yesterday. And they all seem to struggle with staffing.

Yes, you read that correctly: Staffing is one of the top three issues that senior security professionals struggle with. To be fair, quite a few also struggle with getting adequate funding and resources, but even if they have budget and open headcount, they can't find the people. Since I don't know much, I ask folks where they get their best candidates. The answers are pretty consistent: internal, military, and IROCs.

The first place you should look is internally. You have great people who could very well be interested in moving over to security. Maybe they are sysadmins, help-desk staffers, or network engineers. They know technology, they've had some experience with security, and they know your organization. Don't minimize the importance of organizational IQ, since they won't have to figure out how to do expense reports or how to get something funded.

The military is also a great place to find security skills. Every first-world nation has both offensive and defensive capabilities. These folks have skills funded by your government. You have to love that. These folks are diligent, understand chain of command, are usually pretty bright, and don't wilt when you are under attack. The problem is, there aren't enough of them, and it's pretty competitive to hire them.

Finally, we have IROCs. That was the term we used back at META Group for new college grads (Idiots Right Out of College). With the increasing number of security programs at universities, we'll continue to see more graduates with security knowledge. But don't mistake knowledge for skills. These are still kids, and they don't have real-world experience. They are projects, so treat them as such. Some will make it, others won't.

But it's still not enough. So you'll need to grow your own. Basically you need to build a security farm team to provide the increasing number of skilled security folks over the next few years. That means internal training, it means taking on a bunch of interns and participating in engineering co-op programs, and it means taking a bunch of your time to grow and nurture the skills you need. And always remember, there is no crying in security.

If there is a way to support your local universities as they ramp up their security curriculum, then do that. I guest lecture at Kennesaw State every semester, and am happy to work with the professors there to refine the program with some real-world perspective. It's all in the name of making the students more useful when they get their first jobs.

But that doesn't solve your problem today, now does it? Depending on your location and wage scale, your job may be even harder. I remember getting out of school, and I took a job in a metropolitan area for less money. Obviously some security roles require on-site presence, so you may not have a choice. But you'd be much better off trying to design your workflows, teams, and job responsibilities within a remote context. With the collaboration technologies available, it's possible and a lot easier than getting a person to move to the middle of nowhere.

I guess there is another option. You could buddy up with security headhunters and have them drop a bunch of paper on your desk every time you have an open position. To be candid, you may have to do some of that for your very specialized position. But this isn't an answer either.

I'll leave you with one last bit of perspective. The top-performing CISOs I talk to take the human resources aspect of their jobs very seriously -- to the point of spending 10 to 15 percent of their time, if not more, to ensure they have adequate skills and resources to meet the commitments they make to the senior team and board of directors. That's another thing they don't tell you before you take the CISO job, now is it?

Mike Rothman is president of Securosis and author of The Pragmatic CSO Mike's bold perspectives and irreverent style are invaluable as companies determine effective strategies to grapple with the dynamic security threatscape. Mike specializes in the sexy aspects of security, like protecting networks and endpoints, security management, and ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
5/17/2013 | 6:24:22 PM
re: Security Minor Leagues
"For instance, so one who is really good in doing research and has a
background preferably in Linux would be my first pick. Why? Most
firewalls, IPSGs and SPAM engines for instance usually run on some form
of Linux, if not some sort of proprietary OS or firmware under the

I Totally disagree with that, because, it leads me to believe that you have a Linux background and supposedly only people with Linux backgrounds can do anything, however Linux is NOT the end-all-be-all. I think that the best security personnel do come from the network\sysadmin (Linux, Novell or Microsoft) professions, the problem is getting them to stop thinking like an admin and look at the picture from the point of view of "...is it secure secure or not..." versus "...why isn't it secure or not...", and teach them how to understand the need for policy and why it's important to security, because in almost every case we know why something is not secure, (and network\sysadmins seem to take policy very personal). Also, these converts need to get tougher skin, and understand that when you're the bearer of not so good news nobody ever likes you.
User Rank: Ninja
5/17/2013 | 2:16:17 PM
re: Security Minor Leagues
"Can't find people..." OMG, what a joke! Just another excuse to import someone who's cheaper. First I would suggest writing a job description that ACTUALLY defines what the position is and THEN list those (sexy) secondary and tertiary skills and stop trying to find one person who knows EVERYTHING, because you're not going to find that person and even if you do, you will not be able to afford them or the position is so low level that these folks are looking for a job on Monster or CareerBuilder anyway, learn how to evaluate talent and stop being sold on the next guy send over by some head-hunter agency.

Hiring managers need to stop being petty, some are afraid to hire a person with more knowledge and skill than they themselves might have, and lets face it, a lot of managers and HR departments do not know how to evaluate these people or their backgrounds, in most cases all they're looking at are how many certs does a person have, or they're "looking for someone to hit the ground running"... yeah, that was in my job description when I was a paratrooper and chances are that "ideal" guy or gal that you want for your organization already has a very nice job so you'll just need to find your pin in the stack of other available pins.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2013 | 2:24:46 PM
re: Security Minor Leagues
Every day I get offered another Candidate-Financed Relocation job and yes, usually it is located in the MFN. Like I really have this big bag of cash next to my desk labeled. Self-Relocation Money." I don't understand why recruiters and hiring managers think I can afford 2,000 miles of truck rental, security and first month's rent in Hootervile. And are there really candidates who are that stupid?
[email protected],
User Rank: Apprentice
5/6/2013 | 4:14:02 PM
re: Security Minor Leagues
I think this is a great post. However, Information Security takes some highly GǣspecializedGǥ types of people with a great need and wants to move into the hierarchies of Information Security. This is not a slam on the systems or network
administrators, but most have been GǣconditionedGǥ into to get the systems up and
operational as fast as they can with no regard to Security and what that
entails to any length or degree. I have 15 years of solid InfoSec experience and another 10 years in systems/network administration going back to the days of DOS 3.x. You need to know how the old threats have evolved over time into the threats we deal with today. Next, you need to think like a digital native and not a digital immigrant, this is step one.

For instance, so one who is really good in doing research and has a background preferably in Linux would be my first pick. Why? Most firewalls, IPSGs and SPAM engines for instance usually run on some form of Linux, if not some sort of proprietary OS or firmware under the covers.

While, I agree any one person could be a good candidate, some will be better than others. Next, this person is not afraid to read different types of (1000 pages or more) different Information Security technologies/books and studies the 10 domains of Information Security, from end to end. If youGre new to TCP/IP, Networking and how websites and ecommerce work youGre probably not ready for a career in
Information Security.

And finally, find a great mentor or mentors; mine were Marcus Ranum (Godfather of the Proxy Application Firewall) and Dr. Peter Tippett (Co-Inventor of Vaccine one of the first versions of AV, later Norton) who I worked with at TruSecure some years back, assisting with migrating InfoSec technologies from a company called Vigilinx. If you made it into Information Security welcome to the MAJORS, not the minors! All people have a vision to do great things all IGm saying is walk the walk, before you try and talk the talk. I was very fortunate, because I worked really hard at it.

I wish you success in all that you try!


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