Cyberspace has been defined as a ‘fifth domain’ of warfare alongside sea, air, land, and space. Like our physical reality, cyberspace is coupled with survival pitfalls and we’re learning how to better identify, manage, mitigate, and respond to them as our knowledge and experience evolves. Even as we master what we know today, many subscribe to the admonition of Warren Buffet who, when reflecting on cybersecurity, said: “I think it’s the number one problem facing mankind”.
When over 300,000 pieces of malware and malicious code are identified every day and when information systems run everything from our cars, to our lights, to the military systems that keep us safe, it’s imperative to have a workforce capable of protecting, securing and, when necessary, defending those systems. But what does that cyber workforce look like and how do we overcome a worldwide dearth of individuals with the talents, skills and aptitudes we need. The answer, plain and simple, is to train, educate and develop them.
Once developed and performing at a high level of proficiency, however, there are plenty of other opportunities for that professional since cyber skills transcend industries and geography. This means we need a continuous process to recruit, train, retain, mentor and challenge the cyber workforce of the future. Finding, building, hiring, retaining, and energizing that workforce is perhaps the most challenging tasks facing IT leaders today. And the challenge is growing because our adversaries continually improve their abilities to evade and make useless our defenses.
Engaging The Next Generation
An essential aspect of developing a future cyber workforce is engaging the next generation. Engaging, exciting, and helping employ those with the aptitude, to include those from traditional STEM disciplines in higher education and those who may have no formal education is critical. The future begins with our kids. Starting in primary school, we need a national plan to give students options that lead to careers in cybersecurity. Also, we need activities and programs that enhance learning the skills and aptitudes that are necessary to thrive in this new domain.
No matter how successful we are in building a future cyber workforce, it’s important to recognize the critical need to always do more. STEM investments, talent searches and innovative ways to identify, engage and grow our workforce are not optional — a high-stress, complex, dynamic environment such as cyberspace demands we have a talented team of professionals with diverse education, work experiences, talent and skills. For even though it’s a highly technical field in many aspects, cybersecurity has several elements that lend themselves toward different backgrounds.
Diverse Backgrounds Needed
This diversity of backgrounds is important as we look to build high-performing teams. The most successful cyber groups bring their own unique approaches to the challenges faced in the full spectrum of cyber roles. When diversity is harnessed in an environment that encourages creativity, such as cybersecurity, it leads to tremendous innovation. While this diversity is key, there are several common skills and traits to look for when tasked with developing a cyber workforce: curiosity, critical thinking, communications, collaboration, and confidentiality. These five Cs apply to many fields, but are particularly exercised in cybersecurity.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The five Cs may be innate to an individual or developed over time through experiences to build up the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a variety of roles over the course of a career. One size does not fit all. The Department of Homeland Security developed a “Cybersecurity Workforce Framework” that lays out the many categories and specialty areas for fifty cybersecurity positions, where each requires a different combination of skills, aptitudes and experiences to be successful.
There is so much more to a career in cybersecurity than the stereotypical images of hackers and overworked IT professionals. Building and sustaining the cyber workforce of the future is the challenge of our generation.