JSOnline: Building a workforce for the digital age includes cybersecurity

JSOnline: Building a workforce for the digital age includes cybersecurity

For major companies such as Home Depot, Target and JPMorgan Chase, the risks and realities of cyberattacks on computer systems and customer accounts have hit all too close to home.

The latest incident, reported last week in a regulatory filing by JPMorgan Chase, revealed that 76 million household accounts and 7million small-business accounts were hacked this summer.

While there is no evidence thus far of customers losing money or account information getting stolen, hackers were able to burrow deep into JPMorgan Chase’s computers, a breach that underscores the vulnerability of the world’s financial systems.

It also illustrated how having the right people in place to defend against such attacks has become a major cost, and recruitment challenge, for businesses.

Read this commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here

Confronted before the latest attacks with the threat of online crime, JPMorgan had said it planned to spend $250 million on digital security annually.

However, it has been losing many of its security staff to other banks over the last year, with others expected to leave soon.

The competition for such talent is intense, mainly for supply-and-demand reasons: There aren’t enough trained hackers of the honest variety to go around.

That problem is gaining attention in Wisconsin, which is behind the curve in producing, attracting and retaining the kind of cybersecurity talent needed by companies and institutions of all sizes.

For starters, private companies aren’t just competing among themselves for talent.

The federal government is the largest single employer of cybersecurity experts. The Department of Defense alone expects to increase its cyber-fighting workforce to more than 6,000 employees by 2016, making it one of the largest such forces in the world. Defense contractors employ large numbers of developers and technical staff with cyber-expertise, as well.

In the private sector, businesses in retail, financial services and health care — three Wisconsin strengths — also need cyber-expertise.

HP Enterprise Systems recently sponsored a survey of human resources and IT security specialists nationally to “better understand how effective organizations are in hiring and keeping enough skilled and expert staff to meet their IT security mission.”

The study found:

  • Most IT security functions are understaffed but are expected to grow in the next year. On average, more than a third of staff positions were reported as unfilled in 2013.
  • On-the-job experience and professional certifications make the biggest difference when hiring a security practitioner. Most job recruiting takes place at conferences.
  • Salary is the most important part of a hiring package in a highly paid field.

The global demand for people with cybersecurity skills is forecast to grow at 13% per year for at least the next three years, according to the Global Information Security Workforce.

A recent Rand report, “H4cker5 Wanted: An Examination of the Cybersecurity Labor Market,” confirmed the shortage and noted: “educating, recruiting, training and hiring these cybersecurity professionals takes time.”

Filling the workforce void in Wisconsin begins with producing more students with computing skills, especially in the emerging world of data science.

Data scientists bring a combination of math, computational and analytical skills to the job. Starting salaries for these positions are substantial, sometimes in the six-figure category. In 2011, McKinsey & Co. estimated there will be roughly 150,000 unfilled data analytics expert positions by 2018.

Wisconsin is one of only seven states lacking a training program used by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency.

Known as the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense, there are about 100 such outlets nationwide. The program is designed to encourage the teaching of cybersecurity and building a pipeline of professionals, not only for the government but for other sectors.

So, what’s being done?

The talent shortage is certain to be a topic of conversation at this week’s Wisconsin Cyber Security Summit at Marquette University. And organizations like the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium are also making the case that more must be done to close the talent gap.

Cyberattacks are not only threatening national security, they are costing businesses and the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Workforce development in Wisconsin should mean more than preparing people for the skilled trades. It should include building a workforce for the digital age.