Security experts urge caution as UK firms consider hiring ex-hackers

The widening cyber-security skills gap is pushing British companies to consider employing hackers and convicted criminals, according to new research. But some experts say this is the wrong approach.

Hackers
Hackers

In a new study released today, KPMG surveyed 300 senior IT and HR professionals in organisations employing over 500 staff and found that most of these remain unsure how to plug the shortage which – according to previous estimates – will result in a void of two million extra InfoSec professionals by 2017.

Approximately 74 percent of businesses said that new cyber-challenges will require new skills while nearly two thirds (64 percent) admitted that these skills are different to those offered by conventional IT.

The research notes that the shortage is most keenly felt in areas such as data protection and privacy (70 percent of firms admit they lack expertise in these areas) as well as cyber-threat analysis.

But even those companies who have the right staff struggle to hold onto them – 57 percent of businesses say that they find it difficult retaining those with specialised cyber-skills, who are often headhunted for other jobs.

Consequently, some companies are considering alternative avenues with more than half admitting that they would consider hiring a hacker  (53 percent) or someone with a criminal record  (52 percent) in a move KPMG described as targeting ‘poachers-turned-gamekeepers'.

Serena Gonsalves-Fersch, head of KPMG's Cyber Security Academy, said in a statement: “The increasing awareness of the cyber-threat means the majority of UK companies are clear on their strategy for dealing with any skills gaps. However, they wouldn't hire pickpockets to be security guards, so the fact that companies are considering former hackers as recruits clearly shows how desperate they are to stay ahead of the game. With such an unwise choice on the menu, it's encouraging to see other options on the table.

“Rather than relying on hackers to share their secrets, or throwing money at off-the-shelf programmes that quickly become out of date, UK companies need to take stock of their cyber-defence capabilities and act on the gaps that are specific to their own security needs.  It is important to have the technical expertise, but it is just as important to translate that into the business environment in a language the senior management can understand and respond to.”

Speaking to SCMagazineUK.com shortly after the announcement, Gonsalves-Fersch added that security is ‘reactive by its nature' and said that businesses would be well-advised to up-skill existing staff, and get buy-in from the CEO.

“My concern is less who is really out there and more the untapped internal resource in their own organisations,” she said of companies, adding that up-skilling would be one way to resolve the skills gap. “[Up skilling] is turning the problem on its head.”

“Cyber-security is as much about behaviour as it is about technology. The cyber field is constantly evolving and – by nature – it's quite reactive. We don't know when the next thing is going to hit so it's about getting that response right.”

Part of that response, she said, is ensuring the right language is used at the top table, with 60 percent of survey respondents admitting they were worried about finding cyber experts who could effectively communicate with business leaders.

“Boards are recognising the problem, and there are more synergies [with cyber-security]. But it's really a translation piece; it's about articulating cyber in a way the business can understand.”

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