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Feds suffer from 'serious' IT security talent shortage

New report counts the ways

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The United States government faces a serious shortage of skilled cybersecurity specialists, according to a new report, which estimates the country may need an 8-fold increase in the number nationally sponsored graduates with security degrees.

The federal government currently runs a scholarship program that turns out about 120 entry-level cybersecurity specialists a year, according to the report, titled Cyber Insecurity: Strengthening the Federal Cybersecurity Workforce. Chief information officers and chief information security officers from 18 agencies canvassed for the report said the number may need to be closer to 1,000 to quench the country's demand.

"We discovered broad agreement that our government faces a serious shortage of highly skilled cybersecurity professions, a personal deficit that exists amid ominous daily reports of digital intrusions that threaten classified and military networks, personal and confidential data, and the country's critical electronic backbone, including our financial, aviation and electrical power systems," the authors wrote.

More than three-quarters of those interviewed said attracting top information security talent was a "high" or "top" priority, according to the report, which was prepared by the non-partisan Partnership for Public Service and the management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. Only 40 percent reported being "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the quality of people applying for information security jobs.

The findings come as President Barack Obama has declared the country's computer infrastructure a national asset that should be protected by a cybersecurity czar. The emphasis on securing the networks that the nation's banks, power companies, and hospitals rely on is part of a larger push to protect the US against terrorism and similar threats.

According to the report published Wednesday, those plans could be jeopardized by a lack of qualified talent. What's more, the federal government lacks coordinated leadership in hiring and deploying employees trained in information security. The shortcoming often causes departments and agencies to work at cross-purposes, as they compete against one another for limited talent.

"In short, there is no one in government in charge of coordinating cybersecurity workforce planning or decision-making, leaving agencies on their own to find scarce talent or to come up with their own standards and requirements," the authors wrote.

They go on to make a series of recommendations. They include:

  • Developing a nationwide program to encourage more Americans to develop technology, math, and science skills. (Computer security expert Ed Skoudis in April recommended sending kids to hacker camps.)
  • The development by Obama's cybersecurity czar of a government-wide blueprint for meeting current and future employment needs for information security.
  • The establishment of job classifications for cybersecurity and increased funding from Congress to train federal cybersecurity workers to meet those requirements.

A PDF of the report can be downloaded here. ®

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