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Could ‘Mr. Robot’ help solve the cybersecurity skills shortage crisis?

31 Aug 2017

Popular culture, whether it be reflected upon film or TV, has always been a prism through which individuals view the values and topics that interest our society. Lately, we’ve seen the infamous ‘Mr. Robot’ garner the equivalent of a cult following and we’ve seen blockbusters like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Black Hat’ give cyber security the Hollywood treatment.  

Typically Hollywood portrays cyber security and hacking with storylines involving a criminal hacker that’s normally a brilliant outcast sought after by the FBI, the CIA or a similar body who is then excused of all criminal actions to help save the day. While this is a much more glamorous representation of security and hacking compared to the actual reality, what does this actually mean for the industry?

Of course, there’s no denying that Hollywood has a tendency to beautify and at the same time, oversimplify security stories, they do know a thing or two about generating publicity. In the midst of a cyber security hiring crisis, led by a skills shortage, could these movies and TV shows renew interest in STEM Education and create the next Alan Turing or the next generation of ethical hackers?

It’s no big secret that one of the biggest problems facing the cybersecurity industry is that it is nearly impossible to keep pace with the growing volume and complexity of cyber attacks launched by organised crime syndicates and hacktivists. Exacerbating this problem is the fact that fewer students are interested in computer science.

According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 88 percent of Australian IT decisions makers believe that there is a shortage of cyber security skills in their organisation as well as the nation. Alarmingly, findings from the report also revealed that almost half of Australian businesses felt that they were a target for hackers due to limited cyber security.  

While the cyber security skills shortage seems to be an issue worldwide, there are some nations taking significant steps forward to address this. In the UAE, the European Aerospace and Defence Giant partnered with the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research to provide cyber security training. This is just one of the many examples of foreign companies creating partnerships with local academic groups to help the UAE fulfil its goals of creating a knowledge-based workforce.

So, in addition to hoping that popular culture will help increase the attractiveness of cyber security careers, what else can be done to stoke the educational fires? Here are two steps to consider:

Create an academic pipeline for cyber security experts, starting in primary school, not high school. More STEM investment, earlier, means there will be a better chance of creating the next Elliot Alderson.

Consistently define career opportunities for students, and help them understand the various kinds of roles that may be available to them: penetration testers, vulnerability researchers, malware researchers, forensic specialists, cryptography engineers, etc.

With the advanced threats that comprise today’s security landscape, identifying and leveraging our young and brilliant minds is the way forward. Who knows where the next great mind will come from, and more importantly, what kind of technology one person may develop that could swing the cyber war in the good guys’ favour?

Article by Graeme Pyper, regional director, Australia and New Zealand at Gemalto.

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