Strengthening the Lines of Defense
Peter Sherlock says the numbers certainly help tell the story.
There are roughly 26,000 employed in Massachusetts today in what would be called the cybersecurity sector. And there were, at the precise moment we talked with him, exactly 18,263 openings in that realm, a number that goes up seemingly every day.
That means this sector has about two-thirds the number of qualified individuals it needs, said Sherlock, adding that the dire need to close that gap was one of the motivations behind the creation of CyberTrust Massachusetts, which he now serves as CEO.
Another motivation was to make the state’s businesses, institutions, and municipalities more cyber-secure at a time when the number of victims of cyber and ransomware attacks — like the number of job openings in this sector — keeps going up.
“As we put these students into these SOCs, they’re going to be working under the supervision of cyber professionals. We’re going to put them to work making cities and towns more cybersecure.”
How CyberTrust is going about these assignments, which overlap in many different ways, as we’ll see, will be among the focal points of Sherlock’s presentation at the 11th annual Cybersecurity Summit at Bay Path University, set for Friday, Oct. 13 at the Mills Theatre in Carr Hall on the school’s Longmeadow campus.
Registration for the event, which has been drawing steadily larger audiences because of the importance of the subject matter, is required. Individuals can register at baypath.edu/summit, and attend either in-person or remotely.
The working title for the program is “Who’s Next? How a Stronger Cyber Ecosystem is the First Line of Defense.” And Sherlock told BusinessWest that there are many elements that comprise this ecosystem, including the business sector, government, and education (the state’s colleges and universities, and even its high schools and middle schools). Together, they work on those twin assignments of building the workforce and making entities more cyber-secure.
At the forefront of these efforts is CyberTrust Massachusetts, a nonprofit committed to building both opportunity and security through a consortium of statewide businesses and colleges.
“CyberTrust arose out of a long-running dialogue among business and academic leaders, with some folks in government; these were discussions centered around workforce,” he said, adding that he understands first-hand the challenges of hiring — and retaining — within this sector.
Indeed, he previously served as chief operating officer of MITRE, as well as senior vice president responsible for MITRE’s defense and intelligence business.
“In my roles there, I had to worry about our annual hiring programs; trying to hire 1,000 STEM professionals every year was quite a challenge, as was retaining them,” he explained. “I would talk a lot with other executives in the Massachusetts area about the challenges of growing the pipelines in some of these technologies to keep up with the demand.
“And as the pandemic disrupted the workforce a bit more, those problems have become even more urgent,” he went on, adding that this urgency helped bring business and education together in the CyberTrust Massachusetts consortium to “move the needle,” as Sherlock put it, on not only these workforce issues, but the growing threat — in the form of cyber and ransomware attacks — to businesses of all sizes, nonprofits, institutions, and municipalities.
In his presentation at the Cybersecurity Summit, which will followed by what is expected to be a robust question-and-answer period, Sherlock said he will address a number of issues and initiatives, including the workforce challenges, efforts to activate new pathways for the talent pipeline in order to both grow and diversify and workforce, and cybersecurity approaches for municipalities across the Commonwealth.
While doing so, he will discuss how these problems intersect, and also about efforts to address them jointly, such as the security operation center, or SOC (pronounced ‘sock’ by those within this sector) that is taking shape at Springfield’s Union Station. This SOC, to be established by Springfield Technical Community College, will provide threat monitoring and other cybersecurity services for the state’s municipalities, small businesses, and nonprofits, while also creating learning opportunities for those in or seeking to join this sector at a ‘cyber range,’ a new testing lab that will mirror real-world IT environments to provide hands-on training opportunities to local companies, universities, and other cyber-focused organizations.
“We need to introduce new people to the cyber career field, whether it’s recruiting them from high school or getting adult career changers, and making non-cyber majors credentialed in cyber.”
“While focusing on workforce, we decided we could be serving another purpose at the same time,” he explained. “As we’re training our cyber learners with hands-on experiences, we could actually put them to work securing cities and towns, nonprofits, and small businesses. We put together this rather ambitious plan to set up security operations centers at a number of universities across the Commonwealth and to infuse new cyber-range technology into these colleges and universities and enlist cyber employers from across the state into this activity.
“As we put these students into these SOCs, they’re going to be working under the supervision of cyber professionals,” he went on. “We’re going to put them to work making cities and towns more cybersecure.”
Overall, Sherlock said the workforce issue requires creative, outside-the-box thinking and efforts to encourage individuals to consider this field while they are still in high school or even middle school.
“We need to introduce new people to the cyber career field, whether it’s recruiting them from high school or getting adult career changers, and making non-cyber majors credentialed in cyber,” he said. “There are a lot of different ways to get people into the field that we weren’t working at too much.”
Sherlock said he would go into much more detail at the summit, which grew out of the growing importance of cybersecurity in today’s society, the emergence of that sector, and the need to keep businesses and the community at large informed when it comes to new trends, new initiatives — and new threats, said Tom Loper, associate provost and dean in the School of Management and Technology at Bay Path.
Loper said he hopes, and expects, this year’s summit to be well-attended because of its focus on businesses and municipalities, the efforts to keep them safe from cyberattacks, and the role that they play within the emerging cyber ecosystem.