The cybersecurity industry is facing a shortage of trained and experienced professionals. Schools, universities and organizations are doing amazing things to encourage the next generation to pursue a cybersecurity career. However, there is still a huge cybersecurity talent shortage. With the right training, this can change.

It is clear that organizations require cybersecurity training for staff. These team members help to ensure their online solutions and data are secure, operating as intended and readily available.

But, as with many things, the work of the cybersecurity professional is varied and does not always require many years of experience. Neither does everyone need deep technical knowledge, although it helps. In some cases, such as protective monitoring and incident response, communication, leadership and the ability to stay calm under pressure are just as important. Being a team player and knowing when to bring your legal, human resources and media relations teams into the loop are equally useful. What this means is that while the demand for cyber experts will continue, your future cyber recruits might already be in your business.

How to Build a Cybersecurity Career

In a recent engagement, IBM was tasked with finding suitable individuals from within a client’s workforce who could undergo cybersecurity training for cyber incident response. IBM worked based on the idea that part-time workers could rotate into the security operations center (SOC) to help ease the burden on the full-time team and cover for employees who take sick days or annual leave.

The IBM-developed program included a number of phases: aptitude, basic training, coaching and employment.

Volunteers from within the workforce took the aptitude test. The act of volunteering itself showed a basic interest in cybersecurity and a desire to understand more about it as a career.

IBM did not devise the aptitude test to look at existing skills or technical knowledge. Instead, the test determined whether a person would be able to work in a SOC using more general skills. A set of psychometric questions assessed numerical and verbal reasoning, fault finding and pattern spotting. In addition, the students had to make decisions based purely on the data presented to them under time pressure in real-world work.

From these volunteers, IBM identified those who had the best chance of doing well and enjoying working in the cybersecurity field. 

Next-Level Cybersecurity Training

The next step was basic training. In this step, the team used online cybersecurity training tools to show the various different aspects of computers and how they contributed to cybersecurity. The MITRE ATT&CK Framework helped to identify which modules the students should take. The IBM team also monitored their performance over a number of months to coach and encourage. The students could take this part of the module at their own pace. It was also well suited to lockdown, as students could receive it at home at any time, day or night.

First, a cohort of students needed to complete enough of the online modules that the trainers approved them as competent in regards to technical skills. Next, it was time to run some scenarios where they could apply their knowledge.

They participated in an exercise — socially distanced, of course — for two days to help coach and then expand their knowledge of what responding to a cyber incident requires.

IBM has a number of cyber ranges around the world, used to allow incident response teams to test their processes. The ranges can be configured to mimic a client’s network and let trainers attack it in various ways. This allows the incident response team to practice working together, under pressure, in a safe place. Expert trainers record and review their performance to help them see where they can improve.

IBM used this step to develop a series of fictitious tasks, each one harder and more intricate. Students were coached less as the challenges got harder, including irate senior managers (played by actors) demanding answers and fake news reporters wanting an interview.

Learning From Mistakes is Part of Cybersecurity Training

Learning from mistakes in tests can be as, if not more, useful than being told the correct answer. The students learned that there is never enough data or enough time. In addition, they learned it is vital to communicate and make the best decisions possible with the data at hand.

The cybersecurity team also needs not to depend completely on a single set of tools. A SIEM system is only as good as the use cases and rules its user configures. It is vital that SOC and incident response teams know what questions to ask and how to analyze the information they have rather than being dependent on a single technology stack.

IBM’s program is still on-going and subject to further changes. Even at early stages, though, it is clear that a good cyber incident response team (CIRT) does not only include technical experts. A good CIRT, as with any team, needs a blend of talents and personality types. Communication, teamwork and leadership skills are also vital. Your future cyber recruits may be just waiting to build a new cybersecurity career for themselves and you.

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