FEATURED:

Cybersecurity: An untapped opportunity for Main Street

Cybersecurity: An untapped opportunity for Main Street
© Getty Images

Since November 2016, defense of the cyber-enabled parts of our election system has yo-yo’d as a topic of concern with most major news organizations, across print, television and online publications. Defense often stars at the center of most discussions about cybersecurity, but this presumes a one-dimensional discussion is the only one to be had. Cybersecurity is a much more nuanced topic and this characterization misses how the topic affects everyday Americans.

Cybersecurity presents a unique convergence of national security, homeland security, and economic opportunity where policy makers (and candidates) could further agendas around job creation, opportunity, innovation, national security, and foreign affairs all in the span of a couple of sentences. But few seem to do so, preferring to use fear to move voters’ opinions. There is no need, however, to fear the future or to fear change. Where some only see peril, there is the option of also seeing opportunity if we face these challenges together.

ADVERTISEMENT

Economic opportunity is an important place to start. Cybersecurity jobs are not tied to a specific location and are necessary wherever company networks might reside or at network access points across the country. In part, this means that they need not be centralized in cities like New York, Chicago or Washington, DC, or linked to other immobile geographic features. Rather they can provide high paying jobs in smaller cities and towns like Des Moines, Tuscaloosa, or Amarillo or even in rural areas with sufficient infrastructure. Further, the skills are highly portable and not necessarily company specific; so in the event of a business shuttering, a job seeker’s prospects can remain bright.

And while these are not low skill jobs by any means, they don’t necessarily require a four-year college education. There are countless education certificates and vocational-type programs to train all manner and age of students for the cyber workplace. The investment in one to two years of training that can be applied right away, and likely even while in the course of study, is certainly worth the reasonable amount of debt incurred as the student will have relevant, transportable skills for the 21st century. And these quality jobs can help maintain the bedrock of an economy across cities and towns that have had trouble maintaining previously robust job markets. The good news coming from this effort need not stop on main street.

Looking beyond American hometowns, few of the national security or foreign affairs aspects of cybersecurity get consistent or deep scrutiny in the news media. A breach of a major retailer or government agency gets much coverage, and a foreign country likely gets blamed if a nation-state actor is involved. Then the news cycle moves on. Political leaders point to cyber security as an emerging battlespace, but do not yet seem to understand where their next step ought to land after they finish that thought.  While there can be a healthy debate among cybersecurity professionals on topics like hacking back and governmental uses of big data, political leaders who seek to provide a vision for the country’s future ought to be linking the mitigation of these criminal and adversarial threats with innovation and our economic prosperity.

The space race was not just about a cold war arms race with the Soviet Union. It also led to engineering and scientific innovations that undergird much of our modern technology – from computers to the internet to GPS.

Taking a more nuanced view of cybersecurity is a win-win prospect for all manner of politicians, not just presidential candidates. Congressional and statewide candidates should be pushing for stable, well-paying jobs in their districts and states while also securing the data their constituents entrust to the government, like healthcare data for those on Medicare and Medicaid rolls, and the information of children enrolled in public schools.

The changing economic landscape that we find at our doorstep need not be wielded as an implement of fear. As the economy changes, opportunities abound for Americans ready to seize them, and our leaders should not stoke fear, but rather expand the promise of opportunity to help our communities emerge stronger and more resilient in a global marketplace.

Matthew Wein is a former Policy Advisor to the DHS Assistant Secretary of Policy where he focused on International Engagement primarily in the Middle East, Africa and Europe and Law Enforcement Policy. He also served as an advisor to the DHS Director of Operations Coordination on Counterterrorism and Intelligence issues. He is a graduate of the University of Florida. Follow him on Twitter @MattJWein.