Lack of cybersecurity specialists sparks concern

By Molly M. Peterson

September 4, 2002

The United States is facing an alarming shortage in skilled workers to protect the nation's critical infrastructures from cyberterrorism and other threats, several homeland security and high-tech experts said Wednesday.

"There is going to be more demand ... for people with [information technology] skills," Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said during a cybersecurity conference in Washington sponsored by the MIS Training Institute. "It is a huge problem we have in this country-not having enough people with adequate skills and training."

Stressing the need to make information security second nature, Mark Holman, deputy assistant to the president for the White House Office of Homeland Security, said the president's forthcoming national strategy for cybersecurity-due to be released Sept. 18-will address the need for skilled workers to help defend computer networks.

Holman said the strategy aims to be a "living document" that will grow and change as the technology changes. The document will contain sections that address home users' security and network security issues, Holman said. It also will categorize critical infrastructure issues by industry, such as water filtration, electricity or telecommunications.

Government and industry also must educate each other about infrastructure vulnerabilities and threats through information-sharing analysis centers (ISACs) and other partnerships, according to Ronald Dick, director of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center.

Dick noted that although about 90 percent of the nation's infrastructures are owned and operated by the private sector, "the scale at which the private sector looks at vulnerability assessments is very narrow from a national infrastructure-protection standpoint."

Finding and retaining skilled workers to protect the military's critical infrastructures also must be a priority, according to Pennsylvania Republican Curt Weldon, who chairs the House Armed Services Procurement Subcommittee.

Weldon said the military is facing a crucial shortage in information security specialists, in part because workers with those skills can earn more money in the private sector. "It's been a challenge to keep that level of competence in the military," Weldon said. "We're still on the cutting edge, but ... it's extremely difficult."

Weldon said he plans to propose a new scholarship program in which the federal government would pay the undergraduate and graduate tuitions of students seeking careers in information security. Those students in turn would spend several years as "cyber warriors" in the military.

Weldon said "information dominance" will be a military buzzword in the coming years because terrorist networks and enemy states that could never match U.S. strength on the battlefield are looking to cyber warfare as a central strategy.

"All that smart technology that allows us to dominate any battlefield at any time is all computer-dependent," Weldon said. "We've never fought this kind of threat before."

A failure to protect the nation's critical infrastructures could have disastrous consequences, both at home and on battlefields abroad, Weldon said. "We don't know when or where the next attack will occur," he said. "But I can tell you this: It will involve information systems."

Maureen Sirhal contributed to this report.

By Molly M. Peterson

September 4, 2002