How to tackle the cyber security skills gap in SA

The sheer scale of our connected, digital world means that the scope for cyber crime has broadened. As each new technology is unveiled, it introduces a new security risk, says Vikas Kapoor, practice head – Cybersecurity & GRC at In2IT Technologies.

“South Africa has seen a steady rise in cyber crime, jumping to rank as the 31st most cyber attacked country in the world out of 117 countries. The situation is dire, and not helped by our vast shortage of cyber security skills,” said Kapoor.

“Cyber security professionals are constantly having to play catch up, and the development of cybersecurity skills is simply not keeping pace with digital and technological expansion – a lack which cyber criminals are capitalising on.”

He pointed out that the skills shortage is not confined to South African borders, and countries across the globe face similar challenges.

The highly publicised global security breaches of this past year point to an increase in the prevalence of the likes of ransomware, a malware that keeps evolving to find new ways to penetrate and attack networks.

As fast as cyber security measures improve to bridge current security gaps, so does cyber threats, resulting in a continuous shortfall of suitably skilled people capable of properly protecting networks from intrusion, said Kapoor.

He said that beyond the vast size of growing security concerns, another contributor to the dire shortage of skills in this critical sector is time. “Becoming a knowledgeable expert in cyber security takes a considerable investment of time spent learning various technologies and systems, and understanding how they integrate.

“It takes time to build a pool of skilled resources, including time spent in the classroom, to time spent garnering experience protecting live networks. Unfortunately, the cyber security space is already on the back foot and time is of the essence.”

Cyber-security experts require more than just the skills taught in a classroom, said Kapoor. “They also require a mindset that thirsts for knowledge on security threats. It’s more than simply understanding how to protect a network but, also, what to protect it from. The ability to navigate and understand the dark web, or what new cyber security threats are emerging goes a long way towards a building proactive, security centric mindset.”

Fill the gap

The challenge for businesses is that they do not necessarily have the right in house skills to cater to their growing cyber security needs. Furthermore, they may not have the right knowledge to hire people with the right skills either, Kapoor argued.

There is a distinct gap in the market for recruitment agencies that specialise in the cyber security industry.

He said that organisations that are tackling this recruitment process themselves, need to ensure they are opting for individuals who possess the full package: suitable cyber security certifications, experience with multiple environments and the security centric mindset. However, such individuals are, for now, few and far between.

“Organisations can look to co-sourced services to address their cyber security needs, partnering with experienced outsource partners to supplement their own teams, thus building on their skills while benefiting from the expertise of, well, experts.

“South Africa, at a national level, should be looking to develop a similar initiative. Government led initiatives around building specific learning centres or training facilities for the development of cyber security skills would also go a long way padding skills development,” said Kapoor.

He said that additional encouragement of careers in this field can also be attained through offering tax breaks for students pursuing cyber security studies, or organisations who invest in programs for cyber security development.

“Perhaps even encouraging the bringing in of talent from outside of our borders, in order to supplement our skills pool as well as increase our knowledge base.

“It’s a matter of time before South Africa feels the full brunt of being a cyber crime target. We need to act now to begin to address this gap before cyber crime affects our economy and our reputation,” he said.

Read: Cisco boost for cyber security skills shortage in SA

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How to tackle the cyber security skills gap in SA