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Students have to fend off hackers because of cyber-skills shortage

Students with little or no cybersecurity knowledge are being used to fight off hackers because there are not enough cybersecurity employees and matters are getting worse.

Published: February 17, 2019, 10:35 am

    According to one estimate, by 2021 some 3,5 million cybersecurity jobs will be unfilled, MIT Technology Review reported. And sadly of those that apply, fewer than one in four are qualified enough to do the job.

    So students are being paired with AI software that enables them to get the job done. Texas A&M University System has found a way to solve its problem in the short term.

    The college’s Security Operations Center deals with around a million attempts to hack the university system per month. Yet the center does have some full-time employees – the majority of its security staff is made up of students working with AI software to detect, monitor, and remediate the threats.

    Students-in-training serve as cheap cybersecurity staff for the college. And unlike many other organisations, Texas A&M is having no trouble filling the positions. “We have never posted a job,” Daniel Basile, executive director of the Security Operations Center, told MIT. “All of [the students] have heard about us through side channels.”

    Large corporations facing similar shortages have been investing in longer-term solutions like mobile training trucks and apprenticeship programs.

    The AI software only detects anomalies but it cannot act upon its findings, making humans a necessity.

    When the students come in for the day, they’re presented with a whiteboard displaying different areas of the university, noting how many potential threats each is facing, because the AI has already pulled out these “events”.

    The students will then look for suspicious activity. They do so by comparing them with past attacks, looking at things like IP addresses, and analyzing data provided by the software. Student security analyst Jennifer Allen identified a large amount of data in the school network as illicit BitTorrent activity.

    A recent survey found that almost 40 percent of security executives said the skills shortage was causing high rates of burnout and turnover. “No matter how much revenue you have, you can’t find the people,” says Hitesh Sheth, CEO of Vectra, which makes the AI software the university uses. “People leave in 12 months because someone else will give them a 30 percent bump in pay.”

    Artificial intelligence used against attacks could be a dangerous gamble, however. Hackers can learn to circumvent security algorithms quickly. Therefore, humans have an important role to play, and they are desperately needed.

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