Combating the Security Specialist Drought

I have been reading many articles about the limited number of security specialists trained and working in IT. The lack of specialists has set off alarms in both government and other organizations. As a result, for example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has implemented a program for improving the field of cyber security and attracting more personnel to learn and practice the specialty.

I recently interviewed Rodney Petersen, the Director of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), NIST, U.S. Department of Commerce to learn a bit more about what is happening with cyber security.

NICE is a national initiative that seeks to foster, energize, and promote a robust network and an integrated ecosystem of cybersecurity education, training, and workforce development that effectively secures cyberspace. It is designed to be a public-private partnership between government, academia, and industry.

The 2015 ISC2/Frost & Sullivan market study estimates that there will be a shortfall of 1.5 million information security professionals in five years. Sixty-two percent of the nearly 14,000 respondents (employers) said there are too few qualified information security professionals at their organizations. It is projected that there will be 195,000 new information security professionals in 2015.

Job market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies found that there has been a 91% growth in cybersecurity jobs between 2010 and 2014. In 2014, there were 238,158 cybersecurity job postings, and cybersecurity jobs account for 11% of all IT jobs. Further, it takes 8% longer to fill cybersecurity jobs than other IT roles. Roughly 50,000 of the job postings in the U.S. requested a CISSP certification (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) and 5 years of experience for job candidates. However, there are only about 65,000 CISSP holders in the country.

While the number of skilled cybersecurity workers has been increasing, the demand is growing at a faster rate than the increase in supply. The growth in cybersecurity roles in both the public and private sectors is being driven by an increase in risks and our dependence on information technology and data systems for our digital economy. The impact of data breaches and cyber intrusions has caught the attention of C-level executives and boardrooms that are increasing their investments in cybersecurity -- and that includes adding personnel to implement new technologies or oversee changes in organizational processes.

There are seven categories defined in the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework:

  • Securely Provision
  • Operate and Maintain
  • Protect and Defend
  • Investigate
  • Collect and Operate
  • Analyze
  • Oversight and Development

These categories further break down into 31 specialty areas with a corresponding set of knowledge, skills, and abilities. The roles in cybersecurity are extremely diverse, ranging from someone who conducts training or provides security awareness for employees, to a security engineer or systems developer. Academic backgrounds can range from a college degree in psychology to a degree in computer science. Responsibilities can range from a management position to an operational role. Cybersecurity is increasingly multi-disciplinary. There is enough variety in most organizations that a person's abilities and interests can be matched to accomplish a particular task.

Automation of security tools will definitely improve the effectiveness of information security programs and will eliminate some instances of manual labor. We will need cybersecurity professionals to develop, maintain, and monitor the tools. We will also need individuals to conduct threat analysis and interpret data produced by automated processes. The roles with increased automation will shift into new areas, but will not reduce the personnel needs.

I am the director of the NICE Program Office where I am responsible for the strategic direction of NICE. I work to influence our government partners and our stakeholders in academia and industry to participate in a collaborative effort to solve a critical issue to our national security and national economic security. Our strategic directions are striving to:

  • Accelerate learning and skills development
  • Nurture a diverse learning community
  • Guide career development and workforce planning

The NICE Program Office seeks to build on existing programs and is seeking creative and innovative solutions to advance our national agenda.

We are an active supporter and contributor to the DHS/NSA Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cybersecurity. CAE designations are available for two-year community colleges and four-year colleges or universities. We are increasing our efforts in K-12 schools to raise career awareness and career preparation through rigorous academic curriculum that either prepares individuals for entry level positions or higher education.

We are developing a NICE Strategic Plan that is due to Congress in December of 2015. The plan was called for in the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014.

We are promoting a sense of urgency to address the shortage of a skilled cybersecurity workforce. We recognize the importance of the formal education process extending from high school through college as a long-term pipeline to fill future jobs. The only way that we can begin to quickly close the gap between demand and supply is to urgently accelerate moving individuals into cybersecurity jobs. That may require us to retrain and retool the existing workforce. It certainly means capitalizing on the under representation of women, minorities, and veterans in the cybersecurity workforce. It may also mean promoting community college degrees and certifications as a valid measure of knowledge, skills, and abilities for certain work roles.

The NICE Strategic Plan will include some metrics and milestones both in the interest of measuring progress and identifying areas of weakness or concern so we can adjust our strategies accordingly. We are not optimistic that we will totally eliminate the shortage in the next five years. There is a shortage of skilled workers in other areas of the economy as well, including STEM careers, so we know we are competing with other compelling career choices. We hope we can see evidence that we are closing the skills gap and that we are on a long-term trajectory where supply will meet the demand.

NICE will have its sixth annual conference and expo in November in San Diego, established to provide a rallying point for industry, academia and government to discuss effective practices and solutions to meet NICE's strategic directions in cybersecurity skill and career development.