Time to rethink the cyber defense equation

Lee Holcomb is vice president of strategic initiatives and cyber operations at Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions.

In the calculus of cybersecurity, people often focus on the exponential growth of the information infrastructure that represents both the asset that must be defended and the vehicle by which it is attacked. That view is justified and necessary, but there’s another variable in the cyber defense equation that must be given equal if not greater weight, and that’s people.

Government and industry IT organizations have a pressing need for highly intelligent and well-trained IT professionals to design and implement cybersecurity strategies, as documented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency in its November 2010 study, “A Human Capital Crisis in Cybersecurity.”

The problem is magnified because the United States lags behind emerging economic powers in the number of students with the potential to become tomorrow’s cyber technology experts. For example, China and India have more honors students than the United States has children.

The only way to overcome that disadvantage is through a resolve to increase our efforts — as a nation, organizations and individuals — to cultivate a new generation of cybersecurity professionals. The CSIS study focused on federal government actions that could provide the impetus for improved cyber education and standardized professional credentials. Although federal leadership is vital, industry also has a major role to play.

As a leading provider of cybersecurity systems to the federal government, Lockheed Martin is joining with government customers and industry partners to expand existing efforts and start new programs for addressing our nation’s need for cyber professionals. Although we appreciate the value of new and better programs, we also recognize the powerful effect that cyber professionals in industry and government can have by supporting cyber education and professional development.

Each one of us can contribute by participating and being a strong advocate for programs that prepare students to step directly into cyber careers. The various types of effective initiatives we can and should support include:

  • State and local programs that deal with the K-12 pipeline of science, technology, engineering and mathematics students, with an emphasis on cybersecurity. One example is CyberMaryland, a partnership that involves all levels of government and industry.
  • National programs that engage high school and college-level students, such as the U.S. Cyber Challenge, which helps talented people develop the practical knowledge, skills and connections to become cybersecurity professionals.
  • Undergraduate and graduate-level scholarships and internships to capture talent from U.S. colleges and universities, such as the Scholarship for Service programs operated by the National Security Administration, National Science Foundation and Homeland Security Department.
  • Cyber career path development initiatives to create industry standards and professional credentialing.
  • Cyber universities at corporations and government agencies that provide training and development opportunities for cyber professionals.

Government agencies and industry partners, including Lockheed Martin, already support many of those initiatives. But we can — and must — do more. As organizations, we need to focus on effectively coordinating our resources. As individuals, we need to take the initiative to promote and grow our profession. If we do not accept this challenge to ensure that a sufficient number of our nation’s best and brightest minds are prepared to compete in the information economy and preserve our national security and prosperity, who will?

About the Author

Lee Holcomb is vice president of strategic initiatives and cyber operations at Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions.

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