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CSO Security Standard: DHS wants you (for a little while, at least)

Sep 10, 20123 mins
Data and Information SecurityIT Leadership

Mark Weatherford, undersecretary of cybersecurity for the Department of Homeland Security, says more infosec talent is needed at his agency.

If you’re a so-called computer geek who likes to break things and put them back together again, the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division wants you. Nobody would expect you to stick around forever, and lack of a college degree wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker.

Mark Weatherford, undersecretary of cybersecurity for DHS, made those points and more at the CSO Security Standard in Brooklyn, New York Monday.

He outlined his three main goals for DHS:

1.) Achieving operational excellence;

2.) Strengthening partnerships between the public and private sectors, particularly in the area of information sharing; and

3.) Building a powerful, cutting-edge cybersecurity workforce.

He was particularly passionate about the latter goal. He beamed as he described the cyber boot camps held in different states as part of the U.S. Cyber Challenge, a series of government and industry programs designed to identify future cybersecurity practitioners among today’s youth and steer them toward careers in the industry. The larger goal is to address what many in the industry see as a critical shortage of cybersecurity talent in the country.

Stressing the latter point, Weatherford noted how DHS had 40 people dedicated to cybersecurity at DHS four years ago. Today, that number has grown to 400 — plus contractors. But, as one person in the audience pointed out, that’s still a disturbingly low number for an agency the size of DHS.

Weatherford seemed to agree. He suggested there are many “geeks” out there who would make valuable soldiers in the battle for cybersecurity, but that it doesn’t always occur to them that they could have a career in infosec. The U.S. Cyber Challenge has helped some participants see the light. Meanwhile, he said, DHS has been hiring a lot of people from the private sector who have “new ways of thinking.”

But DHS is a long way from meeting its recruitment goals.

“We need to make it so people want to do this for a career,” he said. The goal isn’t necessarily to create DHS lifers, but to make the agency’s cybersecurity division a step on the career latter. For the most part, he said, “people don’t work in government forever. But having DHS experience on your resume will mean a lot when you go back out to the private sector.”

And despite all that’s been said about the importance of a college education for those hoping to succeed in the workforce, Weatherford said those without a degree are welcome to come forward.

“There are people out there who didn’t go to college, but they spent much of their time breaking things and putting them back together,” and DHS needs their help, too, he said.