International hackers might be Canada’s biggest cyber threat, but the country has a far more basic problem to tackle first — finding and hiring the cybersecurity analysts to take them on.
Canada announced in October that it would be opening a cybersecurity centre in Ottawa. Industry analysts believe they need to hire over 140 front-line analysts, who will be tasked with countering hackers intent on infiltrating Canadian companies for financial gain or hostile nations focused on spreading fake political stories online.
But the few programs that exist in Canadian universities and colleges to train students in cyber crime are new, and graduates will be in huge demand for jobs around the world.
“The additional challenge is we have a very skilled labour force, and countries outside of Canada realize that,” says CATA cyber chair Katherine Thompson.
“We have a brain drain in terms of cyber expertise that’s rather shocking so a lot of folks that are headed to the U.S., the U.K., to Europe because they can make two to three times what they’re making here.”
A recent Deloitte study found that Canadian companies will be hiring over 8,000 cybersecurity experts over the next two years. And this isn’t just a Canadian problem: the website Cyberseek reports that there are currently 313,000 open jobs in cybersecurity in the U.S.
“If you look at various studies, they say by 2021 the global shortage in skilled labour for cybersecurity will exceed three million,” says Thompson.
The importance of cybersecurity has been growing for years but got a huge boost when the U.S. said Russian hackers used social media to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.
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“The scale, speed, range and impact of foreign interference has grown as a result of the internet, social media platforms and the availability of cheaper and more accessible cyber tools,” CSIS director David Vigneault told a room full of economic leaders in Toronto on Tuesday.
“Using the internet, states or people acting on their behalf can mount attacks on your servers from almost anywhere in the world with no threat to personal safety and little risk of being caught.”
The U.S. is building its cyber defence strategy around hubs in Georgia and Texas. Overseas, Israel is transforming the city of Beersheba into a global cyber tech hub that is expected to create 30,000 cybersecurity jobs in the next decade. Israel, which has been training cybersecurity experts for years, is seen as the global leader in this space.
“A country of 8.4 million people has more innovation and more skilled labour than a continent of 340 million,” says Thompson. “We have a bit of a problem.”
Programs at Canadian universities and colleges are still relatively new. Centennial College in Toronto began offering its one-year graduate program in cybersecurity this fall.
“Everybody’s always like, ‘You’re going to get a great job easily,’ and that’s because we do have so many openings and so many jobs waiting for us right now, even in Toronto, Canada,” said international student Aarsh Joshi.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s U.S. or Canada. It doesn’t matter what they’re paying, as long as we are contributing to something, it’s always great.”
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A recent study found that 26 per cent of Canadian companies didn’t have anybody on the payroll tasked with monitoring cybersecurity.
Sajid Saiyed from Cybersecurity Umbrella says most companies think putting a firewall in place is enough. But hackers, he says, can get through most of them easily.