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Cyber security skills shortage leads to deep damage

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A crisis in cybersecurity skills is resulting in direct damage to organisations whose lack of talent makes them more desirable hacking targets.

This has emerged from a new Intel Security study called Hacking the Talent Shortage, a global report outlining the talent shortage crisis impacting the cybersecurity industry across both companies and nations. A vast majority (82 percent) of respondents admitting to a shortage of cybersecurity skills throughout the field.

The findings reinforce a recent study by World Wide Worx and VMware, which showed a gap between the threat being faced by South African corporations and their skills to counter the threat.

In 2015, 209,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled in the United States alone.  Despite one in four respondents to the Intel survey confirming their organisations have lost proprietary data as a result of their cybersecurity skills gap, there are no signs of this workforce shortage abating in the near-term. Respondents surveyed estimate an average of 15 percent of cybersecurity positions in their company will go unfilled by 2020. With the increase in cloud, mobile computing and the Internet of Things, as well as advanced targeted cyberattacks and cyberterrorism across the globe, the need for a stronger cybersecurity workforce is critical.

“The security industry has talked at length about how to address the barrage of hacks and breaches, but government and the private sector haven’t brought enough urgency to solving the cybersecurity talent shortage” said Chris Young, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Intel Security Group. “Welcoming non-traditional sources of education, providing training opportunities, evolving skills for automation and diversifying the industry are all critical next steps to address this workforce crisis.”

The demand for cybersecurity professionals is outpacing the supply of qualified workers, with highly technical skills the most in need across all countries surveyed. In fact, skills such as intrusion detection, secure software development and attack mitigation were found to be far more valued than softer skills including collaboration, leadership and effective communication.

This report studies four dimensions that comprise the cybersecurity talent shortage, which include:

1.         Cybersecurity Spending: The size and growth of cybersecurity budgets reveals how countries and companies prioritize cybersecurity. Unsurprisingly, countries and industry sectors that spend more on cybersecurity are better placed to deal with the workforce shortage, which according to 71 percent of respondents, has resulted in direct and measureable damage to their organization’s security networks.

2.         Education and Training: Only 23 percent of respondents say education programs are preparing students to enter the industry. This report reveals non-traditional methods of practical learning, such as hands-on training, gaming and technology exercises and hackathons, may be a more effective way to acquire and grow cybersecurity skills. More than half of respondents believe that the cybersecurity skills shortage is worse than talent deficits in other IT professions, placing an emphasis on continuous education and training opportunities.

3.         Employer Dynamics: While salary is unsurprisingly the top motivating factor in recruitment, other incentives are important in recruiting and retaining top talent, such as training, growth opportunities and reputation of the employer’s IT department. Almost half of respondents cite lack of training or qualification sponsorship as common reasons for talent departure.

4.         Government Policies: More than three quarters (76 percent) of respondents say their governments are not investing enough in building cybersecurity talent. This shortage has become a prominent political issue as heads of state in the U.S., UK, Israel and Australia have called for increased support for the cybersecurity workforce in this past year.

Closing the gap in this global shortage of cybersecurity talent requires countries and organizations to develop critical technical skills, increase cybersecurity budgets, cultivate a larger and more diverse workforce and reform education and training programs to include more hands-on learning opportunities, especially in areas such as the  automation of security networks.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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