By Dr. Kevin Harris
Program Director, Cybersecurity, Information Systems Security and Information Technology, American Military University
This article appeared originally in the Tennessean.
Diversity is vital in the cybersecurity profession, which depends on unique approaches to problems and challenges.
As Metro Nashville Public Schools’ 86,000 students and their parents begin the new school year, they do so with classes resumed in bedrooms, basements and at kitchen tables across the city and throughout Davidson County. The continuing threat of COVID-19 has meant “back to school” is “back online.”
While I understand the burden and inconvenience remote learning means for thousands of Nashville students and their families, I am confident that students will not only rise to the occasion and make the most of their online learning experience but will, in fact, thrive. They may even encounter new insights and opportunities because they will be learning in an online environment.
Get started on your cybersecurity degree at American Military University.
It all starts – and for some, may well continue – with cybersecurity.
Last month I was part of a Metropolitan Development Housing Agency virtual town hall event during which I walked resident students and families, as well as their teachers and administrators, through some simple steps and considerations to ensure they would be able to maintain a secure and safe learning environment.
ConnectHome Town Hall
The town hall was part of a larger program, which, according to Envision Community Partnership manager Lisa Booker, MDHA’s ConnectHome program is providing many students and families laptop computers, internet access and – importantly – some basic training and support.
During the ConnectHome town hall I shared some key information with students and parents surrounding cybersecurity, including:
• How to identify a secure website
• Risks of using the open internet
• Common cybersecurity risks
That is where cybersecurity begins. Where might cybersecurity continue, at least for some Metro Nashville Public Schools students – and in particular, for students of color? The sky is the limit! And that’s why I also touched on career opportunities in my MDHA presentation and will do so next month at an Opportunity Summit hosted by the Urban League of Middle Tennessee and the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals highlighting October Cybersecurity Awareness Month.
According to a 2019 report by ISC(2), an international, nonprofit membership association for information security leaders, the U.S. cybersecurity workforce includes more than 805,000 professionals working across all major sectors in the economy, including financial services, government, manufacturing, retail, health care, education and others.
Cybersecurity Workforce Gap
That’s an impressive number, one that reflects the critical importance – and vulnerabilities – of U.S. organizations’ IT systems. But an even more impressive number is 500,000. That is what ISC(2) calls the “cybersecurity workforce gap” – the number of cybersecurity jobs available but unfilled because employers cannot find enough qualified professionals.
In a separate, companion study, “Innovation Through Inclusion: The Multicultural Cybersecurity Workforce,” ISC(2) reports that while African American and Latino professionals comprise 26% of all cybersecurity workers (slightly higher than the 21% of the overall workforce represented by minorities), most of them tend to hold non-managerial positions. The report also indicates a gap between the average salary of cybersecurity professionals of color ($115,000) and Caucasian cybersecurity professionals ($122,000).
An Opportunity for Students, IT Professionals of Color
Does this all spell a problem? Perhaps. But from my standpoint, the numbers point more to an opportunity – not only for Metro Nashville students who might become interested in the profession, but for all IT professionals of color. Here’s why.
The ISC(2) report includes the conclusions of a study by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, saying, “Diversity is not only important for driving company growth and profit, it is vital in the cybersecurity profession that depends on unique approaches to problems and challenges to protect an organization.”
And in her December 2019 article in Cybercrime Magazine, Ann Johnson, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Cybersecurity Solutions Group, writes, “Getting a wider range of people into security isn’t just equitable; diversity is the best chance we have to make a real difference with security.”
I direct the Cybersecurity Program for American Public University, where I’m privileged to teach – exclusively online – the cybersecurity professionals of today and tomorrow. My students understand the tremendous need and demand for their skills – and they know they are in a field that will continue to grow.
As Metro Nashville Public Schools students continue their online classes, I have two wishes: that all students and their families put into place commonsense cybersecurity measures to ensure everyone’s safety; and that an interest in cybersecurity among some of the students may lead them to cyber opportunity.
About the Author
Dr. Kevin Harris is the Program Director for Cybersecurity, Information Systems Security and Information Technology at American Military University. With over 25 years of industry experience, Dr. Harris has protected a variety of organizational infrastructure and data in positions ranging from systems analyst to chief information officer.
His career encompasses diverse experiences both in information technology and academia. His research and passion are in the areas of cybersecurity, bridging the digital divide, and increasing diversity in the tech community. As an academic leader, Dr. Harris has instructed students at various institutions, including community colleges, HBCUs, public, private, graduate, undergraduate and online. He has trained faculty from multiple institutions in the area of cybersecurity as part of a National Science Foundation multistate CSEC grant.