President Donald Trump last week took a big step toward improving the cybersecurity of the nation.
Trump signed an executive order aimed at increasing the size and strength of the cybersecurity workforce in the United States and addressing a critical need for protecting America in the cyber domain.
“Cyber” is an all-encompassing thing in the modern world, and almost every aspect of life is affected by it in one way or another. From online shopping to the modern battlefield, cyber is everywhere.
With all this cyber integration comes cyberthreats, both from criminals and other countries, and the need for cybersecurity across the private and government sectors has grown, commensurate with the threats.
That high demand for cybersecurity has created a global need for qualified personnel. There are estimated to be more than 300,000 cybersecurity job vacancies in the U.S. today, and there could be up to 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs that remain unfilled globally by 2021.
Competent people are essential for cybersecurity, and talent can take years to cultivate. Coders, developers, malware analysts, and other roles in the field are all in high demand.
The shortage is felt most acutely in the government cyber workforce. Federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense—which houses both the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command—have a hard time competing with the private sector for top talent.
The private sector offers high salaries, dynamic and casual work environments, and quicker onboarding processes—all of which the government struggles to compete with.
According to the commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Paul Nakasone, the difference between the top cyber warriors and the rest can be substantial.
He said his best people are 10 or 20 times better than the rest. He also said “recruiting, training, and retaining” his top personnel were the greatest challenges he faces as the head of the Cyber Command.
The health of the cybersecurity workforce is essential for America’s security and prosperity, and it’s a strategic asset, as described by the White House.
Trump’s executive order seeks to strengthen that workforce by establishing new programs designed to create more opportunities for cyber personnel and flexibility to apply their skills in new jobs.
A couple of examples are a new President’s Cup Competition and a rotational program designed to enable federal employees to learn cybersecurity skills with temporary assignments.
It also encourages the adoption of the framework provided by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, a reference for creating and retaining cyber talent.
In addition, cybersecurity education will get more attention with the creation of the Presidential Cybersecurity Education Awards to recognize elementary and secondary school educators teaching cybersecurity content.
Other measures—including supporting alternative education programs, such as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and technology boot camps—would be another way of expanding the cyber workforce, as The Heritage Foundation has recommended in a recent report.
If the United States is going to compete in the cyber domain, then it needs capable and talented cybersecurity professionals inside and outside of the government.
Trump’s executive order is a step in the right direction and brings attention to a critical issue, but more remains to be done before this challenge is overcome.