Recruiting the next generation of cyber warrior

There is a common analogy shared within the defence and security communities which states “the great battles of the future will be fought online.” If recent events are any indication, this prediction is already becoming standard practice by many countries to sway things like the electoral process and disruptions in government and critical infrastructure.

In planning for the future and how to attract and retain talent for cyber related roles within the military, many senior leaders are faced with having to develop a much different approach to recruitment to meet the future requirements. The specific skills and training of the ‘cyber warrior’ demand a departure from traditional recruiting practices and a more aligned and online approach to making a career in military service appealing in the future. And the conversation needs to start a very young age because many industry sectors will be competing for the skills, expertise and mind space of the future cyber professional.

In Israel, Unit 8200 is the elite cyber security spy agency responsible for the innovation and defence efforts of the Israeli government. This unit has trained and incubated expertise that went on to launch companies such as Checkpoint and Palo Alto.  They have also created a very unique (and somewhat secretive) screening program that is used to identify talented young people under the premise of aptitude to learn new technologies more so than technical knowledge. Now I understand that this isn’t a straightforward comparison–seeing that Israel requires all citizens to fulfill mandatory military service requirements–but it is an example of how young candidates are screened for future potential.

 We have been working on a similar screening tool that not only identifies those with the required aptitudes, but also measures current level of cyber security skills based on job profiles, industry requirements and emerging trends. Our hope is to work with DND as a beta testing candidate in the future.

Engaging academia

Most academic leaders will acknowledge that there is a need and a demand for cyber security training both through diploma-degree courses along with targeted continuing education programs. The challenge I have heard from many academic leaders centres around ensuring curriculum development remains relevant in an industry that is fluid and ever changing. Add to this the challenge to find skilled professionals to deliver this curriculum when salaries are increasing at a staggering pace. 

Academia cannot and should not be asked to shoulder the responsibility of fostering interest in the cyber security industry as well as train talent. These efforts require committed leadership and support from public and private sector. For the defence sector, it means creating closely aligned partnerships to help support the development of academic and awareness initiatives that will showcase the options a career in cybersecurity can offer.

Bringing innovation, academia and defence together

Cyberspark in Beer Sheva, Israel was a joint partnership between the Israeli National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, Beer Sheva Municipality, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and leading companies in the cybersecurity industry. It houses top secret defence research and innovation, talent development and private sector innovation and commercialization. It has become a catalyst for other projects in the North American landscape including the Port San Antonio Cyber Centre and the Georgian Cyber Innovation and Training Institute. The closest comparison to date in Canada lies with CyberNB, but it lacks the depth of investment and presence from the defence sector. For Canada and National Defence, a national hub is needed to ensure that proximity and collaboration continue to drive the requirements for talent development and cutting-edge technologies in the years to come.

Train now and retain on the way out

I have heard some pretty staggering figures thrown around about the number of active serving members of Canadian Armed Forces who are eligible for retirement in the next five years. If that is the case, one recommendation we have provided is to take current serving members, assess their level of cyber aptitude, and provide training to those interested in transitioning into a career in cyber operations. Once at retirement, the government has the ability to transition these men and women into jobs as public sector employees and allow them to continue serving their country.

Appealing to millennials

In a recent study by Protectwise, only 9 per cent of high school students interested in post-secondary studies in computing and information technology were considering a career in cyber security. The reasons listed were the lack of exposure to cyber security in school and not knowing anyone who worked in the cyber security industry.

For the defence sector, the messaging to millennials redefines aspects of what it means to serve and protect your country. Physical strength and endurance may be replaced by mental fortitude and technical creativity. Combat moves from foreign countries under siege to online entities under attack. However the message is structured, the role cyber security expertise will play in helping secure our country and our citizens going forward becomes more critical.