This blog features article “A cyber-skills shortage means students are being recruited to fight off hackers” written by Erin Winick on TechnologyReview.com.
Students with little or no cybersecurity knowledge are being paired with easy-to-use AI software that lets them protect their campus from attack.
There aren’t enough cybersecurity workers out there—and things are getting worse. According to one estimate, by 2021 an estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs will be unfilled. And of the candidates who apply, fewer than one in four are even qualified.
That’s why many large corporations are investing in longer-term solutions like mobile training trucks and apprenticeship programs. But the Texas A&M University System has found a way to solve its labor shortage in the short term. It’s pairing student security beginners with AI software.
The college’s Security Operations Center deals with about a million attempts to hack the university system each month. While the center does have some full-time employees, the majority of its security force is made up of students. Ten students currently work alongside AI software to detect, monitor, and remediate the threats.
This setup both trains students for roles at other companies and serves as cheap cybersecurity staff for the college. And unlike many other organizations, Texas A&M is having no trouble filling the positions. “We have never posted a job,” says Daniel Basile, executive director of the Security Operations Center. “All of [the students] have heard about us through side channels.”
And while that additional look may seem like overkill, Allen says one of her proudest moments actually came during a secondary review. She identified a large amount of data being moved across the school network as illicit BitTorrent activity.
Benjamin Cervantes, a senior majoring in technology management, came to work at the center a year and a half ago with the hope of getting experience to prepare him for a cybersecurity role in the military. Before starting this job, he was working at a local auto repair shop to help pay for university. Now, instead of working on cars, he supports his schooling by using his coding skills 20 to 30 hours a week to analyze threats and work on AI software that can further automate the process of dealing with them.
But just attracting people to work in cybersecurity isn’t the whole challenge. A recent survey found that almost 40% of security executives said the skills shortage was causing high rates of burnout and turnover (see “Cybersecurity’s insidious new threat: workforce stress”). “No matter how much revenue you have, you can’t find the people,” says Hitesh Sheth, CEO of Vectra, which makes the AI software the university uses. “People leave in 12 months because someone else will give them a 30% bump in pay.”