Negative stereotypes about computer hackers are contributing to a skills shortage in the cyber security sector, according to industry experts.
High-profile cyber specialists today warned the industry’s hackneyed reputation as a breeding ground for reclusive computer geeks is misleading and is putting promising students off a career in the profession.
Speaking at the launch of Cyber 9/12, an annual cyber security competition for university students, experts said the industry is in need of workers with a wide range of skills, not just strong technical abilities.
“At the moment a lot of people think a cyber security skill is whether you can hack, whether you can build and defend a network, or whether you can analyse code,” Pete Cooper, senior fellow at Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, told City A.M.
“Those are all really important skills, but that’s only one element of what cyber security is.”
A variety of other skills, such as ethics and communication, are also vital in the industry, experts said.
The warnings come amid growing concerns over a cyber security skills gap, as the industry struggles to keep pace with rapid technological change and rising cyber crime.
A report by industry research group Cybersecurity Ventures predicts there will be 3.5m global job vacancies in the sector by 2021, while a recent parliamentary inquiry found the shortage is “verging on a crisis” in the UK.
The joint committee on the national security strategy's review found even the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the government body charged with providing cyber security advice and support, faces a constant challenge to recruit the expertise it needs.
But the NCSC told City A.M. today that the key to tackling the shortage may lie in changing the industry’s image and looking to recruit workers with a broader range of skills.
“The thing about the skills shortage is if you’re only tapping into a fraction of the graduate community or the school community in the Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) world, you’re already self-limiting,” NCSC director for operations, Paul Chichester, said.
“Actually, what we find is some of the best people we have have a much more diverse set of skills,” he added.
Ruth Davis, head of commercial strategy and public policy at BT, said the industry also needs to tackle its diversity problem if it is to attract the most skilled workers.
Unlike the trope of the hooded computer hacker, the stereotype that cyber security is a male-dominated industry is accurate, Davis said.