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America’s Cyber Workforce Shortage Is a National Security Crisis

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There is no question that the United States leads the world in military power and defense; but despite its position as a world superpower, America has fallen behind on the virtual battlefield.

The birth of the information era in the late 20th century and the respective development of digital technologies, like the internet, revolutionized the lives of billions globally. But this revolution did not come without risk. As governments and businesses sought to store and access more and more information virtually, attack surfaces expanded, opening up new opportunities for exploitation by foreign powers and malicious individuals.

For example, during a 2015 attack on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), sensitive federal information – including the social security numbers of 21.5 million Americans and fingerprint data of over 5 million – was stolen by Chinese government-affiliated hacker groups.

Then in 2017, the United States became a victim of one of the most devastating cyberattacks in its history. The Equifax data breach compromised the sensitive information, such as birth dates and social security numbers, of more than 140 million Americans. Again, Chinese-backed actors were to blame.

Unfortunately for the United States, attacks and malicious data breaches have only become more frequent over time. In fact, reports of US cyberattacks have increased nearly 40% over the last decade with costs surging more than 500% since 2009. Most notably in 2019 with a reported 467 thousand complaints, including a series of coordinated ransomware attacks in Texas that infected the systems of twenty-two different municipalities at once.

The recent massive shift to remote work has further complicated the cyber threat landscape, with cybercrimes nearly quadrupling since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unwary users, frightened and eager for the latest information on the virus, have increasingly fallen victim to malicious emails and websites purporting safety tips from the World Health Organization or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example. Once opened, however, seemingly innocuous attachments and links can introduce ransomware or other malware that spreads throughout a user’s system, presenting particular challenges for public sector organizations trying to keep critical constituent services up-and-running while practicing effective social distancing.

As cyberattacks increase, so too has the need for a skilled and innovative cyber workforce capable of defending this highly contested virtual battlefield. Estimates predict that by 2021, there will be more than 3.5 million open cybersecurity jobs around the world. As it stands today, more than 500,000 and 12,000 cybersecurity positions remain unfilled in America and Arizona, respectively. In today’s complex cyber threat landscape, where the average cost of a data breach is $3.92 million and organizations are being hit with ransomware at record rates, the need for skilled cybersecurity and IT talent is more dire than ever before. Yet, educational and training institutions in the United States have so far found it difficult to keep pace with the growing demand for qualified cyber talent.

In the words of US Senator Martha McSally, “As the COVID-19 crisis spread globally, so have cyberattacks. With criminals and adversarial countries relentlessly targeting hospitals, financial institutions, and government offices, the need for qualified cyber and IT personnel is more important than ever. Who better suited to fight this battle than our nation’s veterans?”

Like Senator McSally, we believe veterans, with their innate perseverance, adaptability, and unwavering work ethic, are uniquely suited to fill this workforce gap. That is just one reason why the Acronis SCSVets Initiative has pledged to provide America’s veterans and military spouses with the credentials, skills, and resources necessary to pursue a career in cybersecurity – all at zero cost to the participant. With cyberattacks now a go-to means of warfare, we as a nation must have a strong cyber force dedicated to ensuring our digital national security, both now and far into the future.