‘There is a global shortage of experienced cybersecurity people’

18 Oct 2019

Joanne O’Connor. Image: Eamon Ward/Skillnet.

Joanne O’Connor, cybersecurity training manager at HPE, explains how bridging the skills gap is essential for dealing with the threat landscape today.

Joanne O’Connor has a varied background in areas such as user experience design, Agile development and project management. Following her graduation from information systems management at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), she joined Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), where she currently serves as the cybersecurity training manager.

“I am also one of the founding members of the Cyber Women Ireland group, which, at a country level, looks to encourage the advancement and capacity of women involved in all aspects of the Irish security sector and security community, through the exchange of information and the cultivation of productive relationships,” she explains.

O’Connor represented Ireland last year at the European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO) initiative Women4Cyber, which was launched in January 2019. “It’s an initiative to promote the role and participation of women in cybersecurity, taking into consideration the imperious growth of cybersecurity needs for skills and its overall impact on our society.”

She also sits on the board for Cyber Ireland, a cluster organisation bringing in industry, academia and government to focus on the country’s cybersecurity ecosystem.

‘If Ireland is to position itself as a leading cybersecurity location … we must address the cybersecurity talent shortage’

The role of education

O’Connor’s field within the world of cybersecurity is education and training. She maintains that while education is, largely speaking, well considered in larger organisations, it may be “non existent” in smaller firms and other areas of the economy such as the public sector.

It’s O’Connor’s job to edify the workforce on how to protect themselves, their companies and their customers. In that field, O’Connor has observed that the training space has begun to involve and incorporate more vivid elements such as gamification, interactivity, real-life immersive experiences and more.

“It’s no longer good enough to force people to sit through boring ‘death by PowerPoint’ type of yearly pieces of training and pretend your job is done. People switch off, go check their email and multitask, come back and take a stab at the obligatory questions and that’s that box checked for another year.”

For O’Connor, a continuous learning approach – one that mirrors the continually evolving threat landscape – is more appropriate.

The role of talent

O’Connor echoes the statements of many working in the cybersecurity industry, saying that cyberthreats are becoming increasingly sophisticated and diverse.

Yet, from her particular perspective, the key to combatting this threat is to revitalise the cybersecurity pipeline – globally, but particularly in Ireland. The industry, according to O’Connor, currently employs 6,000 people, many of whom are working for massive multinationals. As such, the demand for these types of skills in the Irish economy has increased sharply and new strategies are needed.

“If Ireland is to position itself as a leading cybersecurity location and to ensure Ireland is a safe and secure digital economy and society, we must address the cybersecurity talent shortage from a much earlier age and stage of life.”

‘We’re hoping to empower more women to bridge the cybersecurity skills gap’

Cyber Ireland, she notes, is in the process of founding a cyber academy geared towards second-level students, with a curriculum that will explore both personal topics, such as personal security and data sharing, and more technical elements such as cryptography and network security, all taught through a range of activities.

“This skillset will set the students up to hopefully make long-term plans for their third-level education and give them a good view of what a career in cybersecurity might look like for them,” she adds.

But O’Connor also has concerns about the lack of gender parity within the cybersecurity field, and feels that if this is adequately addressed, it could also go a long way to bridging talent gaps, based on data from the ESCO.

“Women currently represent 12pc of the cybersecurity job market and it is expected that by 2021, the cybersecurity field will be in need of 350,000 professionals, and this is only in Europe.”

Her view on the best approach, one that she shares with her colleagues in the Women4Cyber initiative, is two-pronged: it must be inclusive, meaning the measures can be applied to men also; and it must avoid fragmentation, meaning that it takes on a hybrid approach and props up other initiatives while furthering each organisation’s own individual goals.

“We’re hoping to empower more women to bridge the cybersecurity skills gap.”

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Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic