Home » 2023 prediction: Security workforce shortage will lead to nationally significant cyberattack

2023 prediction: Security workforce shortage will lead to nationally significant cyberattack

by Malwarebytes Labs Blog
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If 2022 was any indication, businesses are about to face an unprecedented volume, frequency, and sophistication of cyberthreats in 2023. Global cyberattacks have increased by 483 percent over the last two years, and at the current rate of growth, damage from such attacks will amount to $10.5 trillion in 2025.
Against that backdrop, and despite increased spending on cybersecurity, the skills gap has widened to a canyon. According to the (IC)² 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, the global security workforce gap increased by 26 percent, with 3.4 million additional workers needed to effectively secure businesses. It’s this discrepancy that I believe will lead to a nationally significant cyberattack on a major US organization this year.
As an industry, we need to preemptively address these risks, both by immediately hiring and onboarding new cyber talent and introducing new tools and resources to help simplify operations for SMBs and other thinly-stretched teams.
How to find (and keep) diverse security staff—and when to turn to MSPs

Business leaders are doing a lot of hand-wringing these days. Fears of recession, geopolitical instability, and rising tides of cybercrime compete for attention and have already impacted budget decisions for 2023. But with the average cost of a US data breach at $9.44 million—more than twice the global average—many executives are putting their eggs in the cybersecurity basket. A recent Gartner survey of CIOs revealed that two-thirds plan to increase cyber spending this year.

And yet—will that be enough? Cybercriminals don’t retreat in the face of economic trouble. If anything, they up the ante to meet their financial goals, as has been witnessed firsthand with record cyberattack volume since the start of the pandemic. Cybercrime surged to meteoric heights in 2020 and 2021, and 2022 continued the upward trend with an additional 28 percent increase in global attacks. These numbers hardly do the crimes justice, as they don’t include the effect on employee productivity and morale, lost profits and investments, and irrevocable damage to company reputation.

While organizations have made major investments in cybersecurity recently, hiring additional staff members to manage complex systems, processes, and people does not appear to be a priority. In 2022, the security employment gap expanded by 40 percent to 700,000 unfilled positions in the US alone. “The cybersecurity talent shortage is one of the most significant and threatening challenges facing our industry today,” said Barbara Massa, executive vice president at Mandiant, in an article for CNN.

Indeed, an estimated 70 percent of respondents to the (IC)² 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study reported that their organization does not have enough employees devoted to security, with more than half saying staff deficits put their company at “moderate” or “extreme” risk of cyberattack. It’s no leap of logic to assume a significant cyberattack will take place in 2023 due to a mistake made by an overburdened employee or an incident that overwhelms an understaffed team.

Signs of impending crisis have already started to show. According to a 2022 survey by Colbalt, a whopping 90 percent of respondents who have suffered shortages or lost team members are struggling with workload management. Talent gaps can have tangible impacts on an organization’s security posture, including difficulty maintaining standards, lackluster or non-existent training deployment, and undetected vulnerabilities slipping under the radar.

When security professionals are barely keeping their heads above water, important tasks slip through the cracks, leaving infrastructure exposed to the potential for massive compromise. That’s why it’s time to start thinking differently about the security talent shortage and look for creative solutions to the growing problem.
Recruiting security staff: fewer certifications, more diversification

Historically, job listings for cybersecurity positions have placed heavy focus on prior experience, often with a legacy security institution, as well as a laundry list of technical skills and certifications. Many businesses also require familiarity with their preferred software, with dozens of programs littering job descriptions. However, rigid adherence to such qualifications is often to blame for positions remaining unfilled for extended periods.

Instead, organizations should ditch preconceived notions that security professionals must possess a plethora of niche technical skills and consider candidates with so-called “soft skills” of creative problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. If the candidate shows strong potential and a willingness to learn—and is a good cultural fit with other team members and employees—they can be trained to pick up the technical skills they lack.

Another habitual practice in hiring security teams is to look at the same job boards or set of schools for graduates in computer science and information technology year after year. Instead, businesses should expand their search beyond the usual places and methods. A college degree is not always necessary for someone to become a talented cybersecurity professional.

Experts recommend looking in-house at employees not currently on the security team to fill open slots. Perhaps someone in IT, Q/A testing, or customer service has expressed an interest and can be easily trained. Capture the flag, bug bounty, and other security contests are also excellent sources of highly-skilled candidates, as are apprenticeship and internship programs. Finally, SMBs might have surprising luck poaching experienced candidates who are looking to make more of an impact from enterprise businesses, though admittedly this does little to address the overall skills shortage.

In addition to expanding skill and location parameters, it’s crucial for businesses to diversify their cybersecurity teams. With fresh perspectives, a diverse IS department can not only look at a problem from new angles but address multiple issues stemming from multi-dimensional adversaries. Diversifying security teams means adding members with different skill sets and backgrounds, including those traditionally excluded from the industry.

Women are a growing, yet still underrepresented group in cybersecurity, cornering just 25 percent of the global security workforce in 2021. Hiring managers can look to nonprofits, such as WiCyS, CybHER, Inteligencia, and the Diana Initiative to connect them with women looking to enter the field. The SANS Institute also offers the CyberTalent Immersion Academy for Women, where candidates receive world-class training and certification.

Businesses should also conduct outreach to tap into Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+ communities for potential job prospects. A September 2021 study on diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity found that only 4 percent of US security professionals self-identify as Hispanic and 9 percent as Black.

To court ethnically and culturally diverse applicants, add language to job descriptions that explicitly states interest in groups often left out of hiring pools. Let candidates know the company fosters a welcoming environment for all and encourages professional development of its cybersecurity talent. In addition, look for organizations that match diverse hopefuls to job openings, such as CyberSN, Secure Diversity, and Blacks in Cybersecurity.
Retaining security staff: show them the money

Cybersecurity as an industry suffers from a retention problem. A study from the Kapor Center estimated that high turnover has cost the technology sector more than $16 billion annually. At the heart of such turnover is toxic workplace culture. Nearly 40 percent of employees surveyed said that unfairness or mistreatment played a major role in their decision to leave their company.

It follows, then, that creating fair policies for workload, promotion, and pay—plus treating all employees with dignity and respect—can help businesses hang onto talented security staff. Other strategies include:

Having a succession plan in place so employees can envision and make reality their career growth within the business.

Establishing a mentoring program to allow junior personnel to shadow senior staff and picture what the next stage of their career might look like.

Offering security staff opportunities to be involved in the planning stages of projects so they feel their voice is heard.

Giving employees ample time off for wellbeing, including mental health and personal days, to avoid burnout.

Allowing flexible in-office hours, including a hybrid or remote work schedule to keep competitive offers at bay.

Finally, of critical importance to attract and retain quality employees is offering a competitive salary. Currently, the median salary for cybersecurity professionals in the US is $135,000, according to (ISC)². The study also shows that 27 percent of security workers enter the sector for the high earning potential and strong compensation packages.

Salaries should increase to keep up with both market trends and increasing responsibilities related to the growing sophistication and frequency of cyberattacks. Between 2020 and 2021, some cybersecurity salaries jumped by more than 16 percent to well over six figures, according to a 2021 report from Dice, a tech recruiting platform.
To MSP or not to MSP

Organizations of every size are in the crosshairs of cybercriminals, but SMBs disproportionately feel the weight of cyberattacks. A 2022 Devolutions report found that 60 percent of SMBs have experienced at least one attack in the past year, and 18 percent have endured six or more. However, 44 percent of respondents indicated they do not have a comprehensive, updated incident response plan in place. Alongside choppy economic waters, 2023 could shape up to be a perfect storm for SMBs who haven’t shored up cybersecurity defenses.

SMBs traditionally have fewer resources than enterprises but are at the receiving end of more attacks. Top threats against SMBs include phishing, credential theft, and ransomware, the latter of which can render a small business bankrupt if not properly thwarted. SMBs need robust security protections, but over 40 percent have no internal IT personnel, and most of these businesses are staffed with just one generalist on call.

The growing complexity of securing ever-widening digital threat surfaces while maintaining industry, national, and international security and privacy regulations has driven many SMBs to turn to managed service providers (MSPs) as a lifeline.

MSPs allow small businesses to cost-effectively supplement or stand in for a full-fledged security team to protect against infections and reduce exposure to threats.

Many SMBs, recognizing that MSPs can be critical partners in helping them overcome security challenges, are planning to increase investment in managed IT and security solutions this year. The widespread and growing need for process digitization, cloud migration, post-COVID collaboration, analytics, compliance, and all-around better security are creating strong demand from SMBs for external expertise in cybersecurity.

SMB investment in MSP solutions will not only provide a shield against the onslaught of digital threats in 2023, but help organizations achieve their business goals while improving collaboration and engagement. Whether your organization has budget to hire a diversified security team or requires an MSP to handle complex security needs, ensuring you have skilled professionals to manage and deploy comprehensive protections will keep your business thriving in the new year and many years to come.

For more information on Malwarebytes’ Managed Service Provider Program, check out our dedicated MSP portal.

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