How the Cybersecurity Skills Gap Is Being Closed

Type “cybersecurity skills gap” into your favorite search engine and you’ll find thousands of articles warning about the skills gap and telling us what to do to stop it from growing.

To give you a quick idea of the problem the industry is facing: Marc van Zadelhoff, general manager of IBM Security, stated, “Even if the industry was able to fill the estimated 1.5 million open cybersecurity jobs by 2020, we’d still have a skills crisis in security. The volume and velocity of data in security is one of our greatest challenges in dealing with cybercrime.”

So we know it’s a big problem, and there are many suggestions out there regarding how to fix it. Let me give you two real-life examples of how the gap is being tackled.

Addressing the Cybersecurity Skills Gap

The first solution focuses on people and essentially training up the next generation of workers in cybersecurity skills. To reduce the skills gap in this way, the responsibility must be shared. The industry giants and higher education establishments should share responsibility and, ideally, act together.

May 2016 saw a team of IBM Security professionals in the U.K. give up their time to teach and deliver a module at Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick titled “Enterprise Cyber Security.” This module is being delivered as part of the cybersecurity and management and cybersecurity engineering courses at the school.

The module covers a wide range of cybersecurity areas and gives an up-to-date view of the industry since it is taught by security consultants. Topics include:

  • Cybersecurity business contexts;
  • Architecture concepts;
  • Security solution design processes;
  • Network and infrastructure security;
  • Endpoint security;
  • Identity, access and data security;
  • Security engineering and assurance; and
  • Security intelligence.

Getting Students Involved

In 2014, IBM explored the possibility of building and delivering a brand new cybersecurity module with WMG, University of Warwick. The primary purpose of the academic module was to transfer applied skills that students can draw on with clients and peers.

Mark Buckwell, practice leader for IBM Security in the U.K. and Ireland, is the architect of the course and led the IBM professionals who were teaching for the week. He explained in an interview that “the Enterprise Cyber Security module was designed to give students the opportunity to practice architectural thinking in the design of enterprise IT systems and take away a ‘kit bag’ of practical tools and techniques.”

Now, in 2016, the cybersecurity partnership between IBM and WMG continues to flourish, with more and more students benefiting each year. Julian Meyrick, vice president for IBM Security in Europe, added that “the training developed by IBM with the WMG gives students a fantastic head start in the workplace for the design and integration of enterprise-level security solutions using practical examples that IBM is working on with our clients every day.”

As someone who graduated in 2011 with a business degree, I entered the world of cybersecurity consulting with a lot to learn. I benefited greatly from learning on the job, but having this kind of opportunity would have been a huge advantage.

I’m sure it won’t be long before many of these students are taking up careers in cybersecurity and helping form a new generation of cybersecurity professionals who help reduce that well-publicized skills gap. This is a great local example that could be replicated across the globe.

Security Gets Smart

The second example of closing the skills gap is slightly more unconventional: It is essentially getting a robot to join your security team.

On May 10, IBM Security announced Watson for Cyber Security, a new cloud-based cognitive technology trained on the language of security. Van Zadelhoff explained that “by leveraging Watson’s ability to bring context to staggering amounts of unstructured data — impossible for people alone to process — we will bring new insights, recommendations and knowledge to security professionals, bringing greater speed and precision to the most advanced cybersecurity analysts and providing novice analysts with on-the-job training.”

The thought of cognitive security making a cybersecurity analyst’s job easier and helping train novice analysts is exciting. Perhaps more importantly, it sounds like an innovative solution. Given its intelligence and ability to process so much data, Watson may even lower the skills gap by reducing the overwhelming need for more cybersecurity analysts.

These two different examples show that industry giants and higher education establishments have taken notice of the growing cybersecurity skills gap problem. Not only that, but effective action is being taken to reduce it.

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Daniel Carnelley

Security Consultant, IBM

Daniel works for IBM in the Security Business Unit. Since joining IBM as a graduate in 2011, Daniel has taken on a number of roles in the security unit, including analyst, consultant, offerings manager, executive assistant to the director and marketing.