Fixing the cybersecurity skills shortage in the UK
Attitudes towards security continue to harden - with terrorism, geopolitical uncertainty and cyber threats now joining over-regulation in the top four threats to business growth prospects in PwC’s 2018 CEO survey. This shift is reflected by the language now used publicly – by government and business leaders alike – as highlighted by the UK Defence Minister recently confirming that sponsored cyber-attacks on the UK’s infrastructure could cause economic chaos. But after endemic under-investment in skills development for over a decade, Paul German, CEO, Certes Networks, explains it is time for a significant change in approach to safeguard business.
Supply versus Demand
Organisations now recognise the need to invest heavily in security. Yet when day rates for cybersecurity experts hit £1,400, the industry clearly has a massive problem regarding supply and demand. And while it is fair to say that the escalation in cyber threats has created an unprecedented need for individuals with skills, talent and experience, it is chronic under-investment in training and education that is at the heart of the skills shortage problem.
The UK used to lead the world in cybersecurity expertise. Now, Government representatives are travelling to countries across the globe – including some that are flagged as ‘questionable’ by our security services - in the hope of attracting essential start up expertise and skills. And with the proposed National College of Cyber Security sited at Bletchley Park now not likely to open before 2019, home grown talent is simply not being developed.
So what has gone wrong? The ramifications of the massive spike in outsourcing a decade ago are now being felt. When huge swathes of technical experts were ‘TUPE’d’ across from public sector to private sector organisations, a history of training, education and skills development was lost. These individuals are now leaving the industry in swathes and their skills have never been replaced. The result is escalating demand and a pool of resources that continues to shrink by the day.
There are so many flaws in the current model. The industry is frankly appalling at selling itself; at inspiring the next generation by demonstrating that IT can be an exciting and financially rewarding career. In addition, training has over the past decade become almost exclusively product focused – with vendor ‘academies’ teaching individuals about specific product sets, rather than security framework requirements, a move that has further weakened the depth of expertise offered by any one individual.
This approach is simply not sustainable – for IT providers or organisations desperate to access essential cybersecurity skills. Right now, the small pool of talent is being touted around at ever higher rates by recruitment firms, making essential cybersecurity unaffordable for all but the largest and most successful businesses.
The only way organisations will be able to address the huge demand for cybersecurity skills will be to take control and invest. And that means shifting away from outsourcing and a reliance upon expensive contractors towards re-insourcing key services, including security: the onus is now on companies to build up their own expertise in-house.
At the same time, the IT industry needs to step up and invest in training – true, agnostic training, not product specific, ersatz sales education. If the next generation of cybersecurity individuals are going to be able to make the right decisions, they need an excellent grounding in security – from compliance to standards, including GDPR, PCI and ISO 27001. It is only with that in-depth understanding of end to end security issues that individuals will be able to create a robust security infrastructure supported by the right product choices.
From vendor agnostic training to a commitment to inspiring the next generation to join the industry in the first place, everyone demanding a solution to cybersecurity skills shortages today needs to step up and become part of the solution – not the problem.