A new study by (ISC)², conducted in 2020, revealed that the cybersecurity profession experienced substantial growth in its global ranks, increasing to 3.5 million individuals currently working in the field, an addition of 700,000 professionals or 25% more than last year’s workforce estimate. The research also indicates a corresponding decrease in the global workforce shortage, now down to 3.12 million from the 4.07 million shortage reported last year. Data suggests that employment in the field now needs to grow by approximately 41% in the U.S. and 89% worldwide in order to fill the talent gap, which remains a top concern of professionals.
Security experts, like Sarah Tatsis, VP of Advanced Technology Development Labs at BlackBerry, believe women can help solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage. Here, we speak to Tatsis about why women are needed and valued in the ongoing fight against cybercriminals.
Security magazine: What is your title and background?
Tatsis: I am the VP, Advanced Technology Development Labs at BlackBerry. My team of engineers are responsible for taking new technologies from ideation, to incubation, to delivery into BlackBerry products and for helping BlackBerry stay on the cutting edge of security innovation. I have held many other leadership positions at BlackBerry since joining the organization in 2001, including in quality, pricing, statistical methods, customer support, and operations. Currently, I am the President of Soroptimist International of Kitchener-Waterloo, a volunteer organization that provides women and girls with access to education and training they need to achieve economic empowerment.
Security magazine: Why are women needed and valued in the ongoing fight against cybercriminals?
Tatsis: Cybersecurity is undermined if different demographics don’t have a seat at the table, and to have the sector dominated by just a solitary viewpoint would be very shortsighted for its practitioners and the clients they serve. For a discipline whose calling card is to tout its ability to ‘see’ and stop threats before they happen, and close vulnerabilities before they are taken advantage of, I would advocate that the more diverse viewpoints and backgrounds we as a whole can leverage, the stronger we as an industry will be – and the better protected our clients will be.
Security magazine: What are various ways to encourage women to enter the field of security?
Tatsis: Beyond programs like Digital Defenders that aim to ‘spark’ cybersecurity interest at a young age, we as practitioners need to do a better job ‘shining a light’ on the industry, along with what the average ‘Day in the Life’ looks like and some of the challenges and problems that collectively we’re working to help solve. To take my own company as an example, working at BlackBerry employees have the opportunity to work on software that –
- Prevents hackers from penetrating devices and computers
- Enables automakers to build smarter, secure connected cars.
- Provides intelligence for secure supply chain communications.
- Ensures patient confidentiality in healthcare.
- Safeguards assets in the financial industry.
- Manages crisis communications between and among government agencies and forces.
We need to do everything we can to de-mystify cybersecurity so that people can take an unvarnished look behind the curtain, and when they do, they’ll no doubt see what attracted me– that it’s a dynamic, growing and ever-changing industry and one that will continue to need an educated and qualified workforce.
Security magazine: Can you tell me about BlackBerry’s cyber education program with the Girl Guides of Canada?
Tatsis: One of BlackBerry’s founding mission statements from 1984 (the year the company began operations) is “Always try to build something special. Build important things that have an impact on society”.
Above and beyond the technologies that BlackBerry has built that have changed how the world communicates, it’s through that lens that the company has always sought to be on the look-out for ways we can give back to society outside of our normal day-to-day operations and build a safer, more secure world for all.
It’s amidst that backdrop that the germ of an idea was formed, to examine whether there was a way we could help train up the next generation with the critical skills they need to be responsible digital citizens, while at the same time providing them with opportunities to take a look behind the curtain of an industry that touches every aspect of our world and is only going to grow in importance.
As a former Girl Guide myself, I know firsthand how simple exposure to something can spark a lifelong interest and passion, and for us at BlackBerry there was no question that Girl Guides of Canada was the right organization to approach in pursuit of this mission.
Designed to provide girls with the necessary skill-set to spark early interest in the cybersecurity industry, the Girl Guides of Canada-led ‘Digital Defenders’ program encourages girls to take a “how stuff works” approach to cybersecurity, giving them a robust and in-depth look at industry specific topics through play and discovery-based learning.
Through the program, girls (from the ages of 5 – 18) will have the chance to dive into things like how computers work, how data travels, what hacking is all about and how cybersecurity creates layers of protection. From solving puzzles as part of a cybersecurity-inspired escape room, completing a paint-based color mixing activity to understand encryption, playing tag-based games to explore how different types of malware can infect your computer and much more, ‘Sparks’, ‘Brownies’, ‘Rangers’ and ‘Pathfinders’ will work to complete a set number of activities and modules that teach them various cybersecurity skills.
Recent events, where mass privacy breaches have occurred, have raised public awareness of the importance of transparency and responsible stewardship when it comes to how companies manage data, and we feel it is imperative that as a leader within the industry it is our job to help educate young girls on the importance of being cybersecurity savvy as well as the consequences and dangers of unsafe online behaviors that could potentially put them, their device or their personal information at risk.
Security magazine: How is the program helping solve the cybersecurity talent shortage, as well as encouraging young girls to join the tech field?
Tatsis: In addition to fueling girls’ interests in how cybersecurity technologies work, the Digital Defenders program also aims to foster their curiosity about the countless tech career pathways that they can explore. We know that the demand for cybersecurity skills such as pen testing and white hat hacking is growing rapidly, and within the industry it’s been well documented that Canada is facing a massive shortage of cybersecurity talent.
Almost every major Canadian organization including BlackBerry has postings that they can’t fill, and a study published last year by non-profit IT security organization (ISC)² pegged the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions globally at 2.93 million. We as an industry need to move quickly to attack this issue on all fronts; a big part of which is sparking interest in the field at a young age, in hopes that by the time these same young people start looking at the next stage in their education, they gravitate to the higher education institutions out there that offer cybersecurity as a dedicated discipline.
Truthfully, part of the success of the work we’re undertaking with Girl Guides is the fact that information about cybersecurity is being provided to girls across Canada in fun and engaging ways that can pique their interests. This partnership ensures that even the youngest girls have a strong foundation and solid skill-set that will be extremely valuable in our increasingly connected world where top cybersecurity talent is both scarce and in high demand.
Guiding is all about giving girls the skills to confidently tackle challenges and grab hold of every opportunity that comes their way. With Digital Defenders, we really are investing in the next generation of innovators and imagineers, helping girls see that they can and SHOULD make a difference in the world with their new-found cyber smarts.