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Internships key to addressing cyber security 'brain drain'

Internships key to addressing cyber security 'brain drain'

The skills shortage that exists around cyber security is by no means a South African problem, however, the global nature of the challenge is exacerbating the issue in the local market. Those few skilled professionals we do have are often lured by the prospect of greener pastures overseas, leaving local organisations in difficulties. There are many reasons for the shortage of skills in this space, both in South Africa and across the globe. Regardless of these, however, the reality is that it has to be addressed or security will simply not be able to keep pace with the rapid evolution of cybercrime.

Cybercrime is a growing problem, with security specialist Kaspersky Lab estimating that attacks in South Africa increased by 22% in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the first quarter of 2018. This spike in cybercrime and the rapid pace at which it evolves is one of the main reasons there is a skills shortage in the first place.

Developments in the IT security space happen a lot faster than the various educational institutions can adapt their programmes, and faster than they can produce 'qualified' resources as well. Theoretical knowledge also does not adequately equip people to deal with the reality of the security landscape. It has become increasingly obvious that experience is an essential requirement over and above an academic qualification.

In addition to this, so called first world markets have stronger economies and can therefore afford to pay higher salaries for skills that are in short supply. Correctly so or not, the lure of a higher income and better lifestyle often results in many skilled specialists to seek opportunities overseas.

In fact, while official statistics on emigration are not current, FNB House Price Index stated in September 2018 that for the first time since 2010, more than 7.5% of South Africans selling their homes were emigrating. As a result, there is no doubt that the number of skilled persons leaving our shores continues to increase. Moreover, according to a recent article, for every skilled person that moves to South Africa, eight are leaving. This leaves local organisations with a distinct problem.

In order to ensure that the local skills base has the experience required and to prevent the 'brain drain', the South African government needs to look at incentivising internships in this space.

Unemployment is a significant problem in our country, with a direct correlation to the qualifications of the individuals as highlighted in Statistics SA's latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey. Individuals need to be encouraged to obtain relevant qualifications, and businesses need to be encouraged to enable them to gain relevant experience. This will encourage businesses to provide the opportunities necessary for qualified persons to gain the vital experience they require.

In addition, local businesses need to increase investment into skills development in the cyber security space in order to keep up with a constantly evolving market. Further to this, candidates should be encouraged to maintain international certifications, attend events, participate in training and other activities that will bring experience.

The cybersecurity skills shortage is an ongoing global problem. In fact, according to the third annual global study of cybersecurity professionals by the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) and independent industry analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), it has worsened for the third year in a row.

There is no quick fix to the situation, but the best long-term plan is to ensure that internships, skills development and ongoing skills transfer programmes are in place to provide relevant experience and continually update the skills pool. This requires investment in both time and money, however, if we do not address the skills shortage security will not be able to keep pace with cybercrime.

* By Simeon Tassev, Managing Director and Qualified Security Assessor at Galix.

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