LONDON: For the governments and corporations facing increasing computer attacks, the biggest challenge is finding the right cyber warriors to fight back. Hostile computer activity from spies, saboteurs, competitors and criminals has spawned a growing industry of corporate defenders who can attract the best talent from government cyber units.
The US military’s Cyber Command is due to quadruple in size by 2015 with 4,000 new personnel while Britain announced a new Joint Cyber Reserve last month. From Brazil to Indonesia, similar forces have been set up. But demand for specialists has far outpaced the number of those qualified to do the job, leading to a staffing crunch as talent is poached by competitors offering big salaries.
“As with anything, it really comes down to human capital and there simply isn’t enough of it,” says Chris Finan, White House director for cyber security from 2011-12, who is now a senior fellow at the Truman National Security Project and working for a start-up in Silicon Valley. “They will choose where they work based on salary, lifestyle and the lack of an interfering bureaucracy and that makes it particularly hard to get them into government.”
Cyber attacks can be expensive: one unidentified London-listed company incurred losses of 800 million pounds ($1.29 billion) in a cyber attack several years ago, according to the British security services. Global losses are in the range of $80 billion to $400 billion a year, according to research by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies that was sponsored by Intel Corp’s McAfee anti-virus division.
There is a whole range of attacks. Some involve simply transferring money, but more often clients’ credit card details are stolen. There is also intellectual property theft or theft of commercially sensitive information for business advantage.
Most cyber expertise remains in the private sector where companies are seeing a steep increase in spending on security products and services. Depending on the cyber threat, a variety of firms are bidding for cyber talent. Google is currently advertising 129 IT security jobs, while defence companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp and BAE Systems are looking to hire in this area.
Anti-virus maker Symantec Corp is also doing good business. “The threat environment is exploding,” Chief Executive Steve Bennett told Reuters in an interview in July. The perception of an increased threat, has also led to explosive demand for the best talent. The US Bureau of Labour Statistics says the number of Information Technology security roles in the US will increase by some 22 per cent in the decade to 2020, creating 65,700 new jobs.
Experts say it is a similar situation globally, with salaries often rising 5-7 per cent a year. “Recruitment and retention in cyber is a challenge for everybody working in this area,” says Mike Bradshaw, head of security and smart systems at Finmeccanica IT unit Selex. “It’s an area where demand exceeds supply … it’s going to take a while for supply to catch up.”
A growing number of security firms, such as UK-based Protection Group International, now also offer cyber services. PGI started out providing armed guards to protect merchant ships against pirates but has now hired former staff from Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency.