Desperately seeking cybersecurity help

Security executives desperate to fill cybersecurity openings face the worst IT skills shortage in memory with the workforce gap in the information security field expected to reach 1.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2019.

The White House grew so concerned that it introduced the Cybersecurity National Action Plan earlier this year. The government’s investment to develop more cybersecurity workers will take time before it pays major dividends. Even then, businesses will likely be playing catch-up considering that the number of security breaches rose 38 percent last year and the average organization now sees over 200,000 pieces of security event data per day.

As discussed in the latest AT&T Cybersecurity Insights report, threat intelligence data indicates that more than 90 percent of attacks seen on AT&T networks are known threats or variants of known threats. The challenge is detecting the increasing volume of cyberattacks.

CSOs don’t have the luxury of waiting around. They need to find more immediate ways to compensate for the shortage of skilled cybersecurity personnel. Help may be over the horizon.

Think digital

Over the summer, McKinsey put out a report noting that automation will "affect portions of almost all jobs to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the type of work they entail." The same might be said about cybersecurity.

According to the Paul Roberts, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, this is a field akin to picking needles of “important information out of a haystack of unimportant data.” Companies continue to struggle to adequately monitor the massive amounts of data being generated and the task of combing through all that data can prove daunting.

Security intelligence requires the real-time collection and analysis of massive amounts of information and it’s easy to miss clues. To take one example, a study by the Ponemon Institute, found that it took organizations an average of 256 days to detect advanced persistent threats already residing in their systems.

But technology is about to step into the breach. Advances in the related domains of artificial intelligence, data mining, machine learning and cognitive computing are feeding new optimism about the battle against cybercrime.

Earlier this spring, computer scientists demonstrated how adaptive cybersecurity technologies can filter through millions of log lines each day to flag only the suspicious items. Over the course of a recent three-month-long test, an MIT system logged data from an unnamed e-commerce platform and successfully detected 85 percent of the threats without even needing human assistance. Further, it reduced the number of false positives by a factor of five. That’s no small achievement considering that companies spend more than $1 million a year wasting their efforts on inaccurate or erroneous threat intelligence.

These are just the early days of a nascent trend and more companies will enter the market with commercial solutions combining big data technology with advanced cybersecurity. None of this will eliminate the need for human experts. But computer science has reached the point where it can endow machines with analytical insights that go far beyond the basic biological abilities of humans. It may not be the answer to the chronic IT labor shortage crisis, but it will surely help make a needed dent in the problem.

Charles Cooper has covered technology and business for the past three decades. All opinions expressed are his own. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.