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CyberSmartNV seeks to develop talent for lagging cybersecurity workforce

Debbie Banko, founder and executive director of CyberSmartNV, says the endeavor serves as a one-stop shop for cybersecurity best practices, meetings, events and training.
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RENO, Nev. — By 2021, cybercrime is predicted to cost the world a whopping $6 trillion annually, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to cybersecurity statistics company Cybersecurity Ventures.

The dramatic surge comes at a time when America’s cybersecurity workforce is woefully lagging behind — more than a half-million cybersecurity jobs are unfilled, according to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE).

In Nevada, meanwhile, more than 3,000 such jobs are open, according to NICE, and neighboring California has over 72,000 vacant positions.

These alarming stats propelled Debbie Banko in 2017 to launch CyberSmartNV, a nonprofit focused on the development of cybersecurity talent and resources in the Silver State.

“My motivation was to get more education out there for young people and young folks in IT who were interested in becoming cybersecurity experts,” said Banko, CEO of Link Technologies, a Las Vegas-based IT consulting company. “As well as give back to the public and educate them on how to protect their children and themselves from hackers — what to do in those events.

“And educate them if their children wanted to become somebody within IT that would eventually get into cybersecurity.”

In a nutshell, CyberSmartNV serves as a statewide focal point to positively influence the growth and development of a mature cybersecurity community in Nevada, said Shaun Rahmeyer, administrator of the Nevada Office of Cyber Defense Coordination, a partner of CyberSmartNV.

“The cyber threat is real, it’s tangible, and according to experts, cyber attacks are only going to get worse before they get better,” Rahmeyer said.

All told, cyber attacks are the fastest-growing crime in the U.S. — and they are increasing in size, sophistication and cost, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. For example, ransomware attacks alone are predicted to cost $20 billion in damages by 2021, a 57% jump from 2015.

As a result, the demand for cybersecurity experts is growing 12 times faster than the current U.S. job market, according to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies.

These are high-paying jobs, too. The annual mean wage for information security analysts was $98,350 in May 2018, per the BLS — in Nevada, the annual mean wage is between $83,000 and $92,000.

“Companies are all looking for far more people to hire than what we can train at this point,” Banko said.

In order to develop a workforce readily equipped to fill those high-paying positions, Banko said hands-on training is especially in need. This is why CyberSmartNV is working closely with the Desert Research Institute in Reno, which partnered with SANS Institute to launch a semester-long, hands-on cybersecurity internship program in 2018.

“One of the problems is companies cannot hire individuals from college. They have no experience, and you have to have that in order to become a cybersecurity expert,” said Banko, noting that CyberSmartNV will be going after federal grants to help schools add more hands-on programs.

Businesses in Nevada and beyond are in increasing need of those experts. Consider this: A business will fall victim to a ransomware attack every 11 seconds by 2021, per Cybersecurity Ventures. Meanwhile, Fundera reports that 43% of cyberattacks target small businesses, with 60% of those victims going out of business within six months.

With that in mind, Banko said CyberSmartNV is a great resource for businesses, whether they’re trying to find trained professionals in the cybersecurity or need expert advice or opinion.

In 2020, Banko said the nonprofit will roll out an option for businesses to ask questions to proven Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) in the community and get detailed responses within 14 days.

“We’ve got a lot of CISOs involved,” she said. “It’s really a growing organization and I’m really proud of that.”

Rahmeyer added that the CyberSmartNV website is regularly updated with information and resources “to support organizations in the evolving world of cybersecurity.”