recommended reading

Cybersecurity Field Not Ready to Be Professionalized, Study Finds


The time is not yet ripe to begin introducing professionalization standards into the rapidly changing and diverse field of cybersecurity, particularly given the staffing shortages that already exist in the field, according to a new report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report, “Professionalizing the Nation’s Cybersecurity Workforce? Criteria for Decision-Making,” released Wednesday, concluded that while the field of cybersecurity requires specialized knowledge and intensive advanced training, it is still too young and diverse a discipline to introduce professionalization standards.

“One of the things that gave us pause was that when an occupation professionalizes, it erects barriers to entry,” said Dr. Ronald Sanders, a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton and one of eight members of the committee producing the report. “On one hand, it improves the quality of people who enter the profession, but it also discourages some people from entering the field. At a time when the field is evolving and supply has not kept pace with demand, to professionalize the entire field would likely be counterproductive.”

Specifically, the report, which was sponsored by the Homeland Security Department, noted that the diversity of jobs in the cybersecurity field requires a careful analysis of whether and how professionalization should be implemented, taking into account the responsibilities and context of a particular job.

In addition, the certifications and other requirements that come with professionalization status may provide useful tools for vetting job candidates, but overreliance on these standards may screen out some of the most skilled experts, particularly the “self-taught hackers,” the report states.

Sanders emphasized that one of the defining characteristics of a profession is a code of ethics that ensures the information cyber workers are entrusted with is privileged and protected. While this is a benefit of professionalizing the field, he said, more work needs to be done to determine what the ethics of cyber work should look like. “Given what almost every cybersecurity worker has access to, the ethics and ethos would say the quid pro quo is that you’re going to respect and maintain the confidentiality of it because it is so sensitive,” Sanders said.

The report emphasizes that while broad professionalization of the cyber field is not yet recommended, efforts to improve and certify cybersecurity skills by the federal government – like the National Initiative on Cybersecurity Education – and those in the private sector and academia should be encouraged and applauded.

At the same time, activities to professionalize a cybersecurity occupation should only be undertaken when two high-level criteria have been met: the occupation has stable knowledge and skill requirements, and there is credible evidence of skills deficiencies in the workforce, the report noted.

One example of a cybersecurity sub-profession that may be mature enough for professionalization is digital forensics, which is relatively stable in the level of skills required, Sanders said.  

“We took pains in the report to say that this doesn’t mean the federal government or employers should stop or curtail their efforts to continue to educate and train cybersecurity workers, or that universities should stop trying to improve their courses of study or curriculum, or that the certifying bodies should stop certifying,” Sanders said. “All of those things are good for improving the quality of the cybersecurity workforce.” 

(Image via khz/

Threatwatch Alert

Stolen laptop

Wireless Heart Monitor Maker to Pay $2.5M Settlement to HHS After Laptop Stolen

See threatwatch report


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.