A cyber solution to secure our networks and close the workforce gap

A cyber solution to secure our networks and close the workforce gap
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This May, Baltimore was hit by a ransomware attack that knocked its city services offline. While government employees were able to quarantine the attack, it was too late — the entire city and its citizens were already suffering from the ransomware’s effects. 

Like Baltimore, the rest of the nation is at risk for a potential cyber shutdown.

Data breaches are on the rise, and IT costs are soaring as organizations try to outmaneuver the oncoming threats. The problem is complex, but one of the most effective ways to combat it is through a strong army of cyber defenders.

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The White House in May released its latest effort aimed at bolstering the cybersecurity workforce: The Executive Order on America’s Cybersecurity Workforce. This order introduces a set of goals to fill the more than 300,000 cybersecurity job vacancies in the U.S.

Addressing technical gaps in our evolving workforce will help us strengthen our nation’s security.

Empower employees with skills development

The traditional way of hiring for cybersecurity positions is to recruit talent with demonstrated expertise in the field. Because there are fewer candidates available with existing skills, however, we can’t always rely on that approach. Instead, another option for companies is to develop or access training programs to equip current and/or prospective employees interested in pursuing a career in the cyber field, as Raytheon has done with our Cyber Academy.

Another benefit to such an approach is the potential outreach to communities in need, including youth groups, women’s organizations and veterans. This approach offers an opportunity not only for sharing best practices, but to inspire potential employees who may have passed on cyber careers due to a lack of awareness or even financial constraints. In fact, an (ISC)2 report found that 28 percent of people hold off on pursuing a career in cybersecurity because of the costs associated with education. By removing the cost barrier, we’re already increasing the candidate pool, while still offering education and experience needed for a cyber role.

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The U.S. Air Force has developed a successful internal training and education program called Education With Industry that gives officers and civil service employees the opportunity to work and train in a new industry for up to one year. They then return to the Air Force and share what they have learned. If more organizations empowered employees to explore new skills, like the U.S. Air Force has done, the cybersecurity talent gap could be drastically reduced.

Grant access to hands-on experiences and competitions

It’s important, in addition, to give employees cyber experience through hands-on exercises and competitions. In a classroom, students can be taught how a network operates, but it’s not until they defend one in a realistic simulated cyberattack that they fully understand the technical skills needed to be successful in the real-world. Competitions such as Raytheon’s National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition allow participants to better understand technical terms associated with the field, learn the importance of collaborating with a team and, perhaps most importantly, communicate real-world problems to the C-suite. 

Further emphasizing the importance of these events, President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat O'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms MORE recently announced the President’s Cybersecurity Cup, a new competition aimed at identifying, challenging and rewarding the top cyber experts and teams across key cybersecurity disciplines. It is necessary that more organizations help to make such training a reality; with benefits to both the workforce and to the populace. 

By 2021, there will be an estimated 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs. As our world becomes even more connected, these vacancies pose a problem for everyone. From consumers using their connected home devices to government organizations securing critical infrastructure, investing in our nation’s cyber talent is crucial. 

I recommend all organizations review and begin executing against the goals laid out in the recent executive order. If we work toward this problem together, we will see a stronger and more secure nation.

John DeSimone is vice president of cybersecurity and special missions for Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services.