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What are the future cybersecurity needs in Ireland?

Dr Lubna Luxmi Dhirani and Dr Tom Newe from the University of Limerick look at the security skills shortage in Ireland and how to address it.

While the number of interconnected smart buildings, smart grids and autonomous vehicles, etc. increases, we must ask ourselves the question: what if the critical underlying infrastructure of this intelligent world is hacked, controlled or manipulated for ransom?

In the modern times we live in, the impact and potentially damaging consequences of a cyberattack are far greater than in the past. Data is the new gold and cybercriminals are the gold rush prospectors of this era.

Recent attacks include the HSE cyberattack in 2020, which reportedly cost the Irish taxpayer over €100m. The world’s most valuable oil producer, Saudi Aramco, was hacked in 2021, where hackers scooped 1TB of data and kept it on a leak site while seeking a ransom of $50 million in crypto- cash.

The hackers gained access to data containing full information of 14,254 employees, their names, passport details, phone numbers, email, job title, residency permit, as well as commercial/corporate data such as project specifications, customer lists, etc. This information is of potential usefulness and value to many types of threat actors on the dark web. How this happened is still relatively unknown.

If the answer is to pay these ransoms, then cyber prospectors will keep digging until the shortage of cyber professionals capable of combating and preventing these threats is resolved.

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Cybersecurity careers are professionally and financially rewarding and the sector is growing at a rate of 10% per year in Ireland and globally. Results of a recent study commissioned by Cyber ​​Ireland, due to be published in May 2022, show that there are over 450 cybersecurity companies in the Republic of Ireland employing nearly 7,000 people.

This growing cybersecurity sector will require an increasing number of graduates of all classifications over the next few years and, in particular, skilled cybersecurity workers.

Cybersecurity skills and a good understanding of how these skills can impact our daily lives, society at large and the community are important.

According to 2021 statistics, around 98% of successful cyberattacks were of the type of social engineering – psychological manipulation to trick users into making security mistakes or disclosing sensitive information – and were successful due to a lack of cyber awareness and understanding by the end user.

With continued growth and increased reliance on smart devices and technology at work and at home, the threat of cyberattacks against businesses and individuals is an ever-growing problem. Now is the time to consider a career in cybersecurity.

The skills needed

Compliance with the GDPR and the European directive NIS2 contribute to increasing the level of cybersecurity in Europe, but every day new vulnerabilities and new threat scenarios are surfacing.

In these times of cyber challenges, people need to be trained in cyber defense, crime, threat intelligence, cyber standards and risks, data and network security, etc.

Careers in the cyber world are diverse and versatile. Many different skills are required, allowing different people with different abilities to have rewarding careers.

Cybersecurity solutions are not always technical – instilling a good understanding of security issues, solutions and risks and being able to effectively communicate the necessary solutions and strategies will always be necessary.

The Cyber ​​Ireland study highlights a significant shortage of cybersecurity talent in Ireland amid increased demand. This report indicates that one of the most important factors leading to data breaches in digital structures globally is the lack of training of non-technical employees and the lack of highly trained cybersecurity professionals.

For many people looking for cybersecurity training, a full-time course is not an option and they look for on-the-job training options instead. This gives more experienced staff the opportunity to validate their practical skills through formal qualification.

On-the-job learning provided by employers offers staff the opportunity to engage in meaningful projects and opportunities and access relevant work experience while facilitating their more formal learning provided by the university or other training providers in practical activities.

The Cybersecurity Practitioner Learning Program at the University of Limerick is co-designed with industry as part of the UL@Work Human Capital Initiative Executive Learning Program. This is a Level 8 program aimed at facilitating a blended combination of on-the-job training by the employer and off-the-job training in cyber security.

This flexibility allows the greatest number of employees to participate, as the program aims to ensure that apprentices can minimize the time they are absent from work.

The Irish Government’s five-year Apprenticeship Action Plan further supports the Encouragement of a Wide Range of Participation, which promotes access, diversity and inclusion in learning by offering targeted supports to encourage the participation of under-represented groups such as women, people with disabilities and people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

By Dr. Lubna Luxmi Dhirani and Dr. Tom Newe

Dr. Lubna Luxmi Dhirani is a lecturer and course director of the Cybersecurity Practitioner Learning Program at the University of Limerick. Dr Tom Newe is also a senior lecturer at the University of Limerick and a board member of Cyber ​​Ireland.

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