The era of COVID-19 has taught us all a few things about supply and demand. From the early days of toilet paper shortages to more recent used-car pricing shocks, the stress tests brought on by a global pandemic have revealed the extremely delicate balance of scarcity and surplus.

Another area seeing dramatic shortages? Cybersecurity skills. And just like those early lockdown days when we were frantically scouring picked-over supermarket shelves for the last pack of double-ply, it seems like security resources are growing scarcer just when we need them most.

A new study from the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) reveals organizations are having serious trouble sourcing top-tier cybersecurity talent — despite their need to fill these roles growing more urgent by the day.

Mind the gap

The ISSA study paints a clear picture: Infosec teams are all too aware of the gap between the skills they need and resources they have on hand. Of the nearly 500 cybersecurity professionals surveyed in the study, a whopping 95% said the skills shortage in their field hasn’t improved in recent years.

Meanwhile, of course, cyber attacks have only grown more frequent in the era of COVID-19. And if more attacks are occurring while the skills shortage isn’t improving, there’s only one conclusion to make: The lack of cybersecurity know-how is getting worse, not better.

But despite almost universal acknowledgement of the problem, most organizations simply aren’t taking action to solve it. In fact, 59% of respondents to the ISSA study said their organizations could be doing more to address the lack of cybersecurity skills.

Room for improvement

Given the fact that the skills gap is so top-of-mind and widely felt across the industry, what factors are contributing to the lack of improvement on the issue? ISSA’s findings highlight some key areas where organizations are falling behind.

  • Getting talent in the door — For most organizations, finding the right people for the job is the root of the problem: 76% of respondents said hiring cybersecurity specialists is extremely or somewhat difficult.
  • Putting skin in the game — The top cause that ISSA survey respondents cited for their trouble attracting talent was compensation, with 38% reporting their organizations simply don’t offer enough pay to lure in cybersecurity experts.
  • Investing in long-term training — More than 4 out of 5 security pros surveyed said they have trouble finding time to keep their skills sharp and up-to-date while keeping up with the responsibilities of their current roles. Not surprisingly, increased investment in training was the No. 1 action respondents said their organizations should take to close the skills gap.
  • Alignment between business and security — Nearly a third of respondents said HR and cybersecurity teams aren’t on the same page when it comes to hiring priorities, and 28% said security pros and line-of-business leaders need to have stronger relationships.

For the ISSA researchers, the first step in addressing these shortcomings is a change in mindset, from thinking of security as a peripheral function to one that’s at the core of the business.

“There is a lack of understanding between the cyber professional side and the business side of organizations that is exacerbating the cyber-skills gap problem,” ISSA’s Board President Candy Alexander points out. She goes on to say, “Both sides need to re-evaluate the cybersecurity efforts to align with the organization’s business goals to provide the value that a strong cybersecurity program brings towards achieving the goals of keeping the business running.”

Time to catch up

The pace of innovation today is higher than ever before, as businesses roll out more and more new tech in an effort to create the best customer experiences and stay on the cutting edge of competition. But as this influx of tech hits the scene — from highly accessible cloud-based applications to IoT-connected devices — the number of risks these tools introduce to our lives and our business activities also grows. Meanwhile, attackers are only getting smarter, adjusting their techniques to the technologies that innovation-led businesses are bringing to market.

This is what we call the security achievement gap, and closing it raises some important questions. How can organizations bring on the best people when competition for talent is so high? What if your current budget simply doesn’t allow for the number of team members you really need to monitor your network against threats?

Cyber threats are becoming more frequent, network infrastructures are growing more complex — and unlike used cars, the surge in demand for cybersecurity know-how isn’t likely to let up any time soon. The time is now for organizations to ensure their cybersecurity teams have the skills, resources, and tools they need to think and act just as innovatively as other areas of the business.

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