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How the Cyber Security Skills Shortage Could Affect Your Work and What the Experts Suggest You Do About It

06 September 2018

Did you know that 90% of Australian organisations faced some form of cyber security compromise in 2016? Or, that extreme weather events and natural disasters are the only major risks greater than cyber attacks, according to the World Economic Forum?

Trendier than a fidget spinner (according to Google Trends), cyber security is the topic on everyone’s lips. Alas, the reason it’s such a hot topic is because its demand is skyrocketing while our ability to prepare for cyber crime is increasingly in doubt. The result of which could be catastrophic.

Australians lost approximately 64 million dollars in 2017 due to cyber crime. In 2016 the cost of cyber crime to the Australian economy was estimated to be one billion dollars. A major survey found that around 18% of small-to-medium businesses were impacted by a cyber incident. Yet only 37% of them had cyber insurance cover.

Cyber security is real, it’s scary and it does not discriminate. So, besides investing in a bunker and a thousand cans of baked beans with which to fill it, what exactly can we do about the skills shortage? Thankfully, there are steps we can all take to prepare for the potential hazards of cyber crime.

Enter: Cyber Security Professionals

Known as the superheroes of the digital age, these professionals use their expert programming knowledge to try to enter the psyche of hackers and protect a company’s technological vulnerabilities – sort of like playing a very stressful game of whack-a-mole. They also look for phishing (the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information) and malware (any software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer) issues. These online mavericks are highly sought after, yet, frighteningly, the demand far outweighs the supply.

“People think cyber security is just IT, but it spreads across all industries. And each industry requires a unique skill,” says Ron Nicdao, the Cyber Security recruitment specialist at Ignite.

“I’ve personally noticed the shortage of cyber security professionals. There is a perception that cyber security is only for the top end of town, but it spreads across all industries and business sizes. There is a definitely a gap in skills on the lower level, which means senior guys have to pick up the slack. I’m seeing shortages in Pen Testers, Security Auditors and Security Architects with the right certification.”

Although the skills shortage has persisted for some time, the deficit is particularly acute in Australia, making us a vulnerable target for cyber criminals.

How to Reduce the Cyber Security Skills Shortage

With our growing dependence on cloud computing, the internet of things, AI, mobile internet and the convergence of IT and operational technology comes increasing cyber security threats.

AustCyber, a not-for-profit company responsible for driving the Cyber Security Growth Centre initiative in Australia, predicts that in the next decade more than 11,000 additional cyber workers will be required to fill necessary positions. Although there is a global skills shortage, they say the lack of talent in Australia is “among the worst in the world”.

Abbas Kudrati, Cyber Security Strategist at Pitcher Partners and Professor of Practice Cyber Security at LaTrobe University, agrees there is a shortage with “potential for the cyber skill shortage to triple in the next 5 to 7 years.”

Abbas explains, “There are initiatives in place in Australia to address the shortage. Major universities have bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to support the future demand in the cyber security industry.”

However, meeting demand may not be that simple.

“Australia may need to pursue simultaneous strategies that develop young and emerging professionals, train and redeploy existing workforces and expand the talent search internationally to meet demand. At Pitcher Partners we have a graduate intake program. Many of our graduates are hired within our firm. More organisations should be following our lead, providing opportunities for both local and international students.”

Abbas provides a list of ways organisations could take more initiative. “Give students their first jobs, offer them internships, guest lecture at their learning institutions to promote the industry and this rewarding career path. These things are happening, but we need more people to drive the change. Simultaneously, savvy organisations support trending changes in workforces, specifically in relation to diversity. IT has traditionally been male dominated, but the tides are changing with a growing number of women pursuing a career in the area with positive implications for the cyber security sector.”

Currently the future of work looks bleak for women and training more women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects could be the impetus that nudges workplace gender equality in the right direction. You can read more about it in our blog on 3 ways we can transform the future of work for women.

The Hazards of Cyber Crime

I asked Abbas what would happen if we didn’t act soon.

“This knowledge and expertise will move offshore where it’s easier to secure rewarding work. The fact is, the skills are transferable because cyber security is the same in every country. Hackers don’t operate based on boundaries, so why do organisations seek local experience? Cyber security challenges are the same across the world.”

Aust Cyber conducted a Sector Competitiveness Plan to identify the challenges Australian organisations face when competing in local and international cyber security markets. Their research revealed that Australia’s public investment in cyber security research and development was well behind global industry leaders. The study also revealed that one of the main factors causing the skill shortage was that employers were hindering the supply of skilled workers because they weren’t offering enough opportunities for cyber security graduates to gain work experience.

“Cyber crime will affect the Australian economy. No country is immune and some are at greater risk than others,” explains Abbas. “Companies and the country could be crippled by the impact of cybercrime if we don’t have adequate cyber security expertise.”

Although there are people like Abbas going to great lengths to reduce the skill shortage gap, more is needed. Government intervention, along with more collaboration between schools and industry is essential, to ensure graduates are getting the opportunities required to prepare them for the future.

It’s important that these actions occur soon to avoid the potential catastrophe of cyber attacks on Australia. And to avoid another, perhaps less talked about, catastrophe: Baked Beans becoming unaffordable due to excess demand. The horror!

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