Expanding Cyber Skills Globally: A Complex Challenge that Requires a Whole-of-Society Approach

Cyber security needs a whole-of-society approach – it requires the collective efforts, the collaboration and coordination of a variety of actors across society to create a secure and resilient digital environment. One of the most significant challenges is how to build cyber skills globally. In order to build our cyber resilience, we need a wide range of cyber skills – from cybersecurity best practice awareness to advanced technical skills and public policy knowledge – to build our resilience. Tools and mechanisms exist and can be leveraged and scaled up but need to be matched with skilled individuals at all levels. 

In April 2022, the Global Cyber Alliance joined Cyber Civil Defense, the coalition launched by Craig Newmark Philanthropies and dedicated to educating and protecting people amidst escalating cybersecurity threats, and has focused on ensuring this whole-of-society approach grows globally.  

A whole-of-society approach to cybersecurity involves several components. One of the most critical is raising awareness and promoting education about cybersecurity among individuals. “Cyber skills” refers to the ability to understand, identify, and respond to cyber threats. Individuals with cyber skills can protect themselves and their data from cyber threats, and similarly businesses and governments that have them can protect their critical infrastructures and sensitive information.

In today’s digital world, cyber skills have become as important as traditional skills and countries and organisations around the world are taking steps to address this issue. Below are some approaches through the lens of existing initiatives at global, European and national levels. 

1/ Investing in cybersecurity education and training

Including experiences that provide practical, hands-on cybersecurity skills. Training needs to start at school with basic cybersecurity courses and evolve to long-term professional development with a skills-based approach.

The Cybersecurity Learning Hub is a free online cybersecurity training available on Salesforce Trailhead through a partnership between GCA, the World Economic  Forum, Salesforce and Fortinet. This includes training for workforce development and cyber hygiene for organisations. A recent survey of participants suggested that up to a third were seeking to become professionals from another career, and the majority had no (or minimal) prior cybersecurity experience.

The Cyber Skills Academy launched on April 18 by the European Commission with the intent to map all initiatives related to cyber skills and provide them with a common framework to operate under. 

The Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics provide university students with practical ‘in the field’ experience whilst providing local community organisations with free cybersecurity assessments and services. The consortium is made up of approximately 12 universities and allies, including GCA. Although it is currently primarily U.S. focussed, it is expanding globally.

2/ Encouraging diversity in the cybersecurity workforce 

Including a broader pool of talent can help address the talent shortage and bring in fresh perspectives and ideas. 

Women4Cyber Foundation, a non-profit European private foundation with the objective to promote, encourage and support the participation of women in the field of cybersecurity. It is supported at national level by Women4Cyber Chapters in 19 countries throughout Europe.

CyberWayFinder, a workforce development program engineering career pivots into cybersecurity through business-focused cyber training and work placement programmes. Active since 2017, the programme specifically targets individuals from underrepresented communities in the field and those that may not have pursued cybersecurity careers due to the perception that it requires a completely different skill set, and offers them the training and support to build on their existing skills and pivot into cybersecurity careers. Some of the participants are now cybersecurity leaders and CISOs in Belgium and neighbouring countries. 

3/ Strengthening public-private partnerships

To develop training programs, workshops and other initiatives tailored to meet the needs of the industry. 

Cyber Skills, an Irish national initiative funded by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 3. Cyber security experts from Munster Technological University, Technological University Dublin, and the University of Limerick are collaborating with industry partners to address the growing skills shortage in cyber security in Ireland. Together, Cyber Skills and Mastercard designed education pathways which upskill people so that security is embedded into the way systems are architected and software is developed. In the same manner, Dell Ireland worked with Cyber Skills to develop a program which upskills people with the essential skills and knowledge to secure the networks they manage. 

“If we want to nurture the skills our business requires, we should have more genuine conversations to better understand the barriers that cause exclusion and limit diversity in our workforces, then implement mechanisms to lower them – and do this globally,” Prof. Donna O’Shea, Chair of Cybersecurity at MTU and Project Lead at Cyber Skills.  

4/ Another approach could be to leverage automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to automate certain tasks and processes

While it won’t address the skills gap it can support by freeing up cybersecurity professionals to focus on more complex challenges.

The whole of society approach to cybersecurity involves the collaboration and coordination of all stakeholders to create a secure and resilient digital environment, and cyber skills are essential to building this resilience. There is a shortage of cyber skills, not only advanced technical skills but also of public-wide awareness on cybersecurity best practices. This shortage of cyber skills is not limited to any particular region or country; it is a global problem. Initiatives that promote and encourage cyber skills among individuals, businesses, and governments to address this ongoing challenge are vital.

The author, Kayle Giroud, is the Strategy & Development Associate Director at the Global Cyber Alliance. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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