Cybersecurity as a Catalyst for Economic Growth

Lessons from Sputnik: Producing Benefits Beyond Safeguarding IT

By , October 6, 2010.
Cybersecurity as a Catalyst for Economic Growth

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ear is a great motivator. Fear helped the United States overtake the Soviet Union in the space race after the launch of Sputnik in the late 1950s. Americans feared our Cold War adversaries would conquer space, so the United States invested heavily, not only in technology, but in educating our young citizens in math and science to challenge the Soviets.

"We were really pretty far behind and we were kind of surprised that the Soviet Union was so far ahead in science and technology," Patrick Gorman, former associate director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in an interview with GovInfoSecurity.com (transcript below).

The return on that investment, just over a decade later, resulted in the United States landing men on the moon. And, the investments produced additional benefits such as the creation of the IT industry and other technological advancements unrelated to space.

Similarly, Gorman and others say the United States government and business should take the lessons from the space race and make similar investments in educating and training to build quickly the cadre of professionals needed to safeguard our digital assets. But, Gorman said, fear won't get the government and business to make the necessary investments.

"The way you sell these things is out of opportunity," said Gorman, a partner at the strategy and technology consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton. "If we put more emphasis into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, both from K-12 and the university level, we're going to get benefits that are not related to cybersecurity. This is a larger opportunity. Not only solve the cybersecurity issue, but I think we build up a foundation that is really going to provide the economic growth force into the 2020s. I wouldn't approach with fear; I would approach them from an opportunity perspective."

In the interview, with GovInfoSecurity.com's Eric Chabrow, Gorman also addresses the risk the nation faces by not having a sufficient number of cybersecurity specialists and the way the private sector can help to build a cybersecurity workforce.

Gorman joined the Office of the Director National Intelligence in March 2007 as assistant deputy director for strategy, plans and policy. In August 2008, he became associate director and acting CIO, leaving in August 2009 for Booz Allen Hamilton.

ERIC CHABROW: One estimate being bantered about is that America faces a shortage between 20,000 and 30,000 IT security specialists in government and in the industries that support our nation's critical IT infrastructure. Are those numbers right and how would you characterize the current state of the cybersecurity workforce in the United States.

PATRICK GORMAN: The numbers you are referring to I think came from a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies that was released this summer. If anything, those numbers are understated. The demand is much higher than probably than the 20,000 to 30,000 because this is not just support in the government sector but it is also in support of financial services, energy and the whole commercial sector that is out there.

If you look at the trends we've seen lately, really since the .com crash, the number of computer scientist graduating from colleges with bachelor degrees have been really cut in half. They used to be about 16,000 a year.; they are about 8,000 a year now. Not only have are we not producing enough, but we've been going the wrong direction for about the last eight to 10 years.

CHABROW: Does the dearth of IT security specialists in government and key industries mean our IT infrastructure is a great risk?

GORMAN: When people start talking about cybersecurity, a lot of people like to focus on things like staying at the cyber command, things that the Department of Homeland Security has been doing, for example, or same building and facilities and all these things that are really interesting and they assume part of it resources. But the foundation of all of this is human capital. If we don't have the human capital in place, all the other stuff is not going to work. We're not poised right now to create the number of people with the right skill sets that we need to really support the needs we're going to have, not only within government, but as I said earlier, within in the commercial sector as well. It is the most critical piece of cybersecurity, so it's not just independence to it.

CHABROW: Why is the human element the most important?

Follow Eric Chabrow on Twitter: @GovInfoSecurity

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