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Fewer Cyber Pros, More Cyber Problems

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Jeffrey Ait is vice president and head of BlackBerry's U.S. Public Sector division

Technology decision-makers within the U.S. government are at a critical juncture.

They are tasked with protecting our nation’s most valuable assets at a time when cyberattacks are growing in frequency and complexity. Earlier this year, the U.S. government’s annual assessment of global threats revealed that the risk of cyberattacks is likely to increase as new technologies, including those enabled by mobile devices, continue to emerge.

Therefore, the question remains – are we equipped to prevent a large-scale cyberattack?

Lawmakers are beginning to acknowledge action is needed to ensure we have the necessary safeguards to combat malicious cyber criminals who want to target our country’s businesses and public infrastructure.

Cybersecurity has been part of the congressional agenda this year, and the House of Representatives recently passed a trio of bills that would enhance information sharing and strengthen the cyber workforce at the Department of Homeland Security.

However, as a nation, we are still surprisingly unprepared to tackle the current threat of cyberattacks and mitigate emerging risks.

The simple reason? According to two recent analyses, we do not have an adequate workforce to address the government’s growing and critical cybersecurity needs.

The lack of cybersecurity expertise coupled with the small number of skilled workers has created a fearsome trend.  

I believe the government must implement policies to both reward current cybersecurity professionals and incentivize innovations in cybersecurity education. By doing so, the government can better mobilize the next generation of skilled cybersecurity workers to address today’s skills gap.

Cyber Pros Need Better Workplace Perks

A June 2014 report from the RAND Corporation indicates a shortage in cybersecurity professionals poses particular threats to U.S. homeland security. Demand far exceeds supply for skilled cybersecurity professionals across the nation, according to the report.

The shortage is more severe in the federal government, where salaries are lower than those in the private sector.

The government possesses a great deal of assets, including national security and federal infrastructure. To ensure these assets remain protected, we should better reward cybersecurity workers within the U.S. government with attractive compensation, continuing education programs and flexible work schedules.

Uncle Sam Needs More Cyber Students, Too

Focusing on the current crop of federal cyber workers is important, because the government can’t just fix the problem with hiring.

An additional report from the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy asserts “there is a shortage of highly trained cybersecurity professionals who are capable of addressing the threat at hand.”

The report calls for the creation of a national professional association in cybersecurity along the lines of the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association. A professional association could help establish industry standards and encourage robust education, the report argues.

While this call-to-action is a positive first step, it’s simply not enough to address the importance of having a skilled cybersecurity workforce.

We must enact policies in the U.S. that reward and incentivize students to study cybersecurity.

Nearly five years ago, President Barack Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” initiative to encourage students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – fields. 

As part of this initiative, the administration created “Change the Equation,” a nonprofit aimed at encouraging the business community to help improve the quality of STEM education in the U.S. The organization has already expanded STEM education to sites across the country, making programs more accessible to a broader population.

If we created a similar initiative for cybersecurity studies, we could begin to mobilize our next generation of professionals in this field.

There is a dire need for a national and comprehensive solution addressing the skills gap. The U.S. government must act swiftly to implement policies and legislation that support the development of cybersecurity workers to help ensure the safety of our country’s data, citizens and corporations.

(Image via Rawpixel/Shutterstock.com)

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