How to face the industrial cybersecurity talent shortage head-on

Courtesy of Brett Sayles

As digital transformation sweeps through industrial sectors and critical infrastructure environments, the importance of maintaining cybersecurity defenses for operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems (ICS) has never been greater. However, a shortage of qualified, experienced cybersecurity professionals to protect this complex machinery has become a major challenge for many organizations.

A company’s ability to protect its industrial OT and critical infrastructure environments will be largely determined by how well it’s able to resource and cultivate cybersecurity talent. With cyberattacks growing in sophistication and frequency, workers require the right blend of experience and competency to identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities in these systems.

The ideal OT cybersecurity specialist should have a background involving industrial automation, cyber system technology and network security. It is also important for these individuals to have experience working in industrial environments with an understanding of the unique challenges and complexities that come with securing critical infrastructure. Hands-on training and exposure to real-world environments are the best ways to keep teams up to date with the latest trends in industrial cyber technology.

Companies that specialize in ICS cybersecurity utilize labs to simulate technology being used in the field. This sometimes includes programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human machine interfaces (HMIs) and other OT assets. This allows technology to be stress-tested in a controlled environment to see if the cyber defense mechanisms are operating as intended, and how they react in response to software updates and patch implementations.

How to find the right cybersecurity talent

Given the conditions and circumstances surrounding today’s job market and labor force, finding the right talent with the necessary skills and experience to work in an industrial cybersecurity space can be a difficult task. While there are many seasoned cybersecurity professionals available in the information technology (IT) space, individuals with experience and interest in industrial environments are fewer in number. Additionally, many cybersecurity professionals may be reluctant to work in industrial environments due to the potential hazards and physical demands. It does, however, present a significant opportunity for those who are looking to break into the cybersecurity field and occupy a special niche that is growing in importance.

Many digital safety firms focus on training individuals with backgrounds in engineering or industrial work to use industrial intrusion detection and cybersecurity tools. This approach has proven successful, as individuals with a background in industrial engineering or similar vocations are often more comfortable in industrial environments and can more readily adapt to working with the tools and technologies used in industrial cybersecurity.

In addition to resourcing the right talent, many ICS cybersecurity firms also offer augmentation services for organizations looking to bolster their in-house cybersecurity teams. Providing access to qualified, experienced industrial automation and cyber system technology experts can help organizations improve and harden their industrial environments, allowing them to focus on their core business objectives while ensuring the security of their OT.

The impact of automation on cybersecurity staffing

While the cultivation of human talent is key to successful OT cybersecurity, automation is a determining factor that will most effectively offset the workload for OT workers and create a more efficient cybersecurity environment. By automating certain tasks such as asset inventory, patch management and incident detection, companies can free up their talented cybersecurity personnel to focus on more high-level tasks such as analyzing and responding to cyber incidents directly. In addition to reducing workloads, automation can also help eliminate some of the tedious and monotonous tasks that can often lead to worker burnout or errors.

As more and more companies realize the importance of protecting their OT and critical infrastructure environments, the demand for cybersecurity talent will continue to increase, even as automation helps alleviate shortages in the workforce. This allows companies to reduce the overall workload on their cybersecurity personnel and, in turn, helps address the talent shortage. This helps ensure companies are adequately protected against cyber threats and stand a greater chance of keeping their manufacturing plants online.

The shortage of skilled OT security professionals and the need for automation in the field should be of great concern for a company’s board of directors. As more and more companies become reliant on technology and interconnected systems, the risks posed by cyber threats to the company’s assets, operations and reputation increase. In the face of this threat, the board of directors has a responsibility to ensure the company is adequately protected against cyber risks.

The shortage of skilled OT security professionals makes it difficult for companies to find and hire the right talent to protect their systems. This can lead to a lack of expertise in the company’s security team, which can result in overlooked vulnerabilities or ineffective security measures. Furthermore, the competition for skilled OT security professionals is intense, and companies may be forced to pay a premium for their services, which can drive up costs.

While automation can help reduce the demand for skilled workers and free up OT security professionals to focus on more suitable and productive tasks, the board of directors must ensure their company’s investment in automation is strategic and effective. Poorly implemented automation can lead to its own set of vulnerabilities and risks.

Addressing the cyber skills gap

The shortage of qualified and experienced OT cybersecurity professionals is a critical challenge for organizations that rely on ICS systems and critical infrastructure environments. Without the right talent and resources, companies are at risk of cyberattacks that can cause financial and reputational damage, unplanned downtime and physical safety hazards. As such, it’s crucial for companies to prioritize cybersecurity resourcing and staffing to protect their assets and operations.

Fortunately, companies can take various steps to address this challenge. These include resourcing the right talent through effective recruitment, training and augmentation strategies, as well as leveraging automation technologies to reduce the workload and improve the efficiency of their cybersecurity teams. However, it is essential to ensure that automation is implemented strategically to avoid creating additional vulnerabilities and risks.

By investing in the right talent and resources and adopting a proactive approach to OT cybersecurity, companies can protect their critical infrastructure and maintain their competitive edge in today’s digital age. Ultimately, the success of companies’ OT cybersecurity efforts will depend on their ability to prioritize this issue and take decisive action to mitigate the risks of cyber threats.




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