Having just celebrated Youth Month in South Africa, there is no better time to consider a career in cybersecurity. According to Stats SA’s mid-year estimate of 2019, our youth (aged 18–34) constitute almost a third (17,84 million) of South Africa’s population. Young people must be equipped with the necessary skills to prepare them for jobs within the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Cybersecurity as a skill is more in demand than ever
We have experienced an increase in the use of technology and digitalisation with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, as internet safety has come to prominence during remote working situations. Unfortunately, even though cyber-threats have long been a foundational issue, we have seen an increase in cyber-attacks, with computer hackers playing on panic, fear and anxiety during this period of uncertainty, targeting people’s increased dependence on digital tools. Globally, we are now experiencing 5th (Gen V) and 6th (Gen VI) generation cyber-attacks. This means threats are large scale, multi-vector, mega attacks targeting businesses, individuals, and countries. Everyone is a target, and no one is immune from these fast-spreading attacks.
Now more than ever, information security is a technical skill in high demand. IT specialists who can identify loopholes in systems, pinpoint any vulnerabilities and tailor practices to strengthen the way in which information is managed, are a valuable resource in the quest for future business success.
With a persistent cybersecurity skills shortage globally, companies must look to new areas to develop new skills by purposefully attracting a youthful workforce. Organisations must broaden their view of the workforce by developing new, previously untapped, candidate pools.
We must evolve our view of the workforce
Unless the cybersecurity industry can embrace greater age diversity, it will face a stagnating workforce and be unable to keep up with a rapidly expanding skills gap. The IT sector has the potential to uplift thousands, if not millions, of lives within South Africa. This is vitally important from an intelligence perspective. Both the public and private sectors increasingly realise that organisations benefit from a workforce that represents the public it protects.
The cybercriminal of today does not care about age, sex or ethnicity of the target, as long as they get the intended result. The industry needs to ensure that the right people, along with the right technology, is in place to adequately protect businesses. “We are currently fighting against Gen V and Gen VI cyber threats that utilises a diverse array of attack vectors, with most organisations only having 3rd generation cyber protection in place,” says Pankaj Bhula, Check Point’s Regional Director for Africa. A diverse team offers a stronger defence against these threats.
Education holds the key to futureproofing our youth
The writing is on the wall: if we are to futureproof our nation, IT security vendors have a responsibility to educate the youth on IT security. It is important to make larger efforts to include previously disadvantaged youth. The IT sector is one of the most challenging sectors for previously disadvantaged groups to enter when we consider factors such as access to home computers, broadband and the STEM knowledge required within this field. According to The National Science and Technology Forum, South Africa continues to suffer from problems in its school education system, notably in STEM subjects. University graduation in STEM-related courses is around 20%, contributing to a dire need for high-level skills in STEM areas.
At Check Point, we have made a commitment to education and bridging the IT security skills gap by making a portal of helpful online resources freely available, along with partnerships with online educational platforms such as Coursera.
Check Point SecureAcademy™ is an education initiative which aims to provide a comprehensive cybersecurity curriculum to students. Our academy has already partnered with six universities across five countries within Africa, with the latest addition of Strathmore University in Kenya. Through partnerships with universities, Check Point hopes to increase the opportunities available for women to enter the cybersecurity field, with the aim of driving gender diversity and inclusivity. The Check Point SecureAcademy™ aims to give students the ability to recognise and resolve IT security threats, develop hands-on experience with leading security solutions and acquire employable real-world skills to protect networks through the programme’s courses.
A career you can grow in
No matter what type of background a young person comes from, they play a critical role in closing the growing cybersecurity skills gap. In order to prepare for the widest variety of vulnerabilities, we need people who are attuned to all types of risks to participate in all levels of the discussion about risk assessment and mitigation. A higher number of proficient security professionals is crucial to ensuring the future security of our online networks.
Cybersecurity is a great career for anybody who possesses the skills that matter: a combination of soft leadership skills and hard skills in cybersecurity strategy, management, user education, risk assessment, and security operations. These attributes qualify anybody for a position in the cybersecurity space. Most importantly, those individuals are desperately needed.