Cybersecurity in Kitsap is done by students thanks to Pisces program through WWU

Local college programs are working to fill the gaps in the cyber security industry.

According to a CNBC article published Nov. 1, cybersecurity firms are struggling to attract and keep skilled workers to help protect networks. There are roughly 2.8 million professionals working within cybersecurity currently, but it is estimated that an additional four million trained workers will be needed to close the skills gap and properly defend organizations according to one study cited by CNBC. Challenges in the labor market and changes in mentality among cybersecurity workers has shifted to more skilled workers wanting to work as contractors rather than full-time staff for these firms.

It’s important to understand, first and foremost, what is cybersecurity?

“It’s basically protecting our computers and our communications from people that are trying to do bad things with them,” says Erik Fretheim, the director for the cybersecurity program at Western Washington University (WWU).” Everything from hacking to social engineering and phishing and everything else that you can think of.”

Hacking is one of the skills that many people working in cybersecurity are interested in learning, it’s this intense interest, coupled with the rapid growth of the field and a lack of interest in teaching these skills that are causing the hiring gaps, Fretheim says.

“Trying to get enough people into the field is a challenge. 20 years ago, there wasn’t a field called cybersecurity, 10 years ago it was just barely getting started … There’s not enough people who have the skills and interest to be teaching it,” Fretheim said.

Fretheim noted that most of the time when you have someone graduating from these programs or with degrees in cybersecurity they’re going to get a job within the industry rather than teach it.

Olympic College and Peninsula College both offer certification programs in cybersecurity that can be used to transfer to WWU’s bachelor of science degree program but also allows people interested in cybersecurity to get jobs in the field on the less-technical side of things. The program offered at WWU is much more technical and requires students to have already earned an associate degree.

“We take and build on what they [students] did in their [Olympic and Peninsula] programs, adding depth of technology as well as breadth across the area of cybersecurity,” Dr. Fretheim said.

Michael Hamilton is the Chief Information Security Officer for a Seattle based firm called C.I. Security, formally M.K. Hamilton and Associates. Hamilton has 30 years of experience in cybersecurity and formerly worked for the City of Seattle. Hamilton helped to develop one of the educational programs to teach cybersecurity skills called Pisces.

“Pisces is a nonprofit that I created, it basically adjudicates legal agreements between Western Washington University, between my company CI Security and between other universities in the state and in local governments. What we do is, we do pro bono security monitoring for local governments, but instead of collecting data off their networks and bringing it to our security operations centers, where we do our commercial service, it goes over to the Washington State Academic Cyber Range in Poulsbo,” Hamilton said.

CI Security has put a reduced functionality version of their monitoring stack in Poulsbo, wherein which WWU has built a curriculum around the data that is being collected there. Students are trained in cybersecurity as operational analysts, using the data collected there, which impacts critical infrastructure in their own neighborhoods.

“When they pop out of that program, they are not only better qualified to go and take jobs as analysts, but they are in high demand,” Hamilton said.

Basically, free monitoring and protection systems that develop a skilled workforce later on.

However, CI is having the same issues as other firms in hiring due to the skilled workers going towards the more attractive side of cybersecurity, which is hacking, while there is a huge demand for auditors.

“The most frequently hired role in security is an auditor … not a ‘break-in artist,’ yet everyone wants to go to school, they want to do the ‘big, sexy thing’ which is breaking into networks,” Hamilton said. “The net of that in the next five years is we’re going to have a bunch of under-employed break-in artists, which is not going to end well.”