Here’s a bit of heresy for 2019: Data’s not everything.
Sure, data often gets called the oil of the digital age — and data, as a commodity, has an economic, political and cultural value as massive as all those hydrocarbons gathered from beneath the planet’s surface. However, it takes more than data for 21st century society to function. This may be the early stages of the digital age, but society still needs people at the gates defending against attack, just like it’s always been.
That’s the long way of saying the U.S. — and the federal government in particular — needs more cybersecurity experts. A lot more, in fact. By the reckoning of Ron Green, chief security officer and executive vice president at Mastercard, the country has more than 313,000 cybersecurity job openings.
Not only that, but just 4.2 percent of federal cybersecurity workers are aged 30 and under. That compares to nearly 14 percent who are at least 60, according to figures from June 2018. Those people are charged with protecting the country’s digital infrastructure via jobs in such departments and agencies as the Department of Defense, CIA, Federal Election Commission and Department of Energy (which designs, tests and creates nuclear weapons for the U.S., among other tasks).
Green and Mastercard have a plan, details of which he shared during a PYMNTS interview on Tuesday (April 9) with Karen Webster. The company has a new program called the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative — backed by Microsoft, Workday and 10 federal agencies (including the ones listed above) — that seeks to place recent college grads with relevant educational backgrounds into federal cybersecurity jobs, after which those professionals can stay in or join the private sector, and possibly see their student loan debt wiped out.
If this sounds something like an ROTC program in college, Green, a West Point grad and former Secret Service agent, won’t contradict that too much. The idea is to not only deal with that shortage of cybersecurity professionals by offering solid, “front-line” experience at the federal level, but promote the option of public service among young people. In fact, the program also has the backing of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.
“For a number of students, just how to join a government agency can be daunting,” he said. He recalled his own early interest in joining the Secret Service. “It took me a while to find the right inroads.”
His government work involved busting hackers, and working to bring down national and international fraud rings — he is well aware of the threat posed by hackers and unguarded data. “We are always creating new technologies, but somebody’s got to understand how to secure this stuff,” he told Webster.
Corporate participants in the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative — Green said he is always on the hunt to attract more companies — will help pay what he called the “maintenance costs” of the effort. That includes up to $75,000 in student loan debt relief for those program participants who complete their two years in a federal cybersecurity job, then take a job in the private industry, a move that triggers the debt relief. That’s certainly a powerful incentive. Green, however, drawing upon the experiences of himself and others who worked for the government, hopes that some of the professionals find their own love of public service and stick around in government.
Private Industry Gain
Even if they do not, the private companies will gain employees who have worked on some of the most pressing issues related to cybersecurity, experience that can translate into fraud prevention and other vital corporate tasks. “They’re all going to be chomping at the bit to have that person on board,” Green told Webster, noting that every business pursuit needs cybersecurity awareness.
For instance, hackers attack law firms, hoping to exploit relatively soft targets for information on clients. Hackers pry their way into medical databases to steal personal data and commit fraud.
The application period for the program runs through Oct. 18, with agencies making offers by spring of 2020, and participants starting work in the summer or fall of next year. “It will be competitive,” he said. Green anticipates that the first cohort will include 30 or 40 recent college grads. “If we have a lot more companies, we will make space for more,” he added.
There is little question that the federal government is in need of more cybersecurity professionals. Consumers might be getting numb to data breaches, according to many experts, but that doesn’t mean the hackers will ever back off.