Preparing cyber professionals for the real world – ACS

There is a dire shortage of talent in the information security industry.

Today, industry roles command big salaries, but also bigger workloads.

When you read articles about the best jobs or highest paying jobs to consider, information security is always in the top 10 of the list.

How does this industry sustain current security professionals and prepare the next generation?

Here, I look at what current professionals can do, and offer sound advice for preparing the next generation of security pros.

Malicious cyber activities are becoming very common.

Some have gone so far as to say that this form of crime knows no bounds.

It is global and unlimited, like the internet itself.

The deficit of a well-developed, skilled workforce makes government and businesses recruitment efforts very difficult.

Developing sophisticated technical capacities has become a priority for US and global industries and governments.

The role of educators

No-one plays a more important role in preparing the next generation security professionals than educators and trainers.

We need to make sure existing education gives students a holistic view of cyber security with focus on relevance and proficiency.

The complicated state of cyber threats requires a learning methodology engendering critical thinking and deeper understanding to defend against increasingly complex cyberattacks.

A number of shortcomings exist in the conventional classroom training model in creating efficient and reliable cyber security professionals, according to the Software Engineering Institute.

Going forward, we will be facing increasingly interdisciplinary and multi-faceted challenges.

These will necessitate knowledge in different fields and areas, including law and law enforcement, criminology, engineering, computer science, to name a few.

This is hardly a surprise, as the main elements of cyber security technical perfection, process, and people must be supplemented by the capability to manage shortcomings.

Deterrence Doctrine and SPC (Situational Crime Prevention) theories

Information system researchers analysing security compliance and behaviour use the deterrence doctrine, according to which the likelihood of violations is inversely proportional to the perceived risk and punishment.

A review found that this theory has been the most-cited one in Centre for Internet Security (CIS) security literature over the past three decades.

According to this literature, one must increase awareness of an organisations efforts to limit ICT abuse and of the likelihood and/or extent of sanctions in order to reduce ICT violations.

The Situational Crime Prevention (SCP) Theory is widely used to study cybercrime and reduce criminal activities perpetrated or otherwise related to employees.

Most crimes are opportunistic and occur when a motivated offender detects a suitable and unguarded (or incapably guarded) target.

Proponents of the SCP theory find violators to be rational decisionmakers who carry out an analysis of costs and benefits before committing a crime.

Accordingly, the SCP theory outlines five broad categories of efforts to counteract cybercrime that security professionals should make. They are presented in the table below:

Table 1. Categories of efforts to counteract cybercrime, according to SCP

The US government established a cyber skill task force to address the crisis in human capital in the field of cyber security, improve retention and recruitment of cyber security professionals, and identify the best ways to create and support a national cyber security workforce.

This initiative gave rise to the NICE Framework: a proposal to group, organise, and describe cyber security tasks.

The framework is comprised of seven categories covering 31 specialty areas, as well as details regarding work roles, skills, abilities, knowledge, and tasks.

It has become a good starting point for developing a central cyber security curriculum and a useful categorisation of topics and related skills.

Cyber security exercises

The NICE Framework and the Situational Crime Prevention Theory have been combined to design and deliver cutting-edge tools and strategies.

One notable example of how these are used is the Cyber Security Exercises (CSE), an offense/defense environment, in which students are grouped and get a virtual machine to host HTTP(S), FTP, SSH, and other services.

These services can then be accessed by other groups.

The CSE aim to reflect real-life environments for students to apply their skills.

The approach of CSE architecture has proved useful for translating theory into practice.

More specifically, CSE are elaborate learning experiences aimed at developing competence and expert knowledge through simulation.

They are associated with a number of pedagogical issues, including design of exercises and training outcomes and evaluation.

Training effectiveness can be improved based on analysis, observation, and integrating educational knowledge and focus at each stage of the life cycle of CSE, including planning, feedback, and implementation.

Its necessary to measure change systematically in order to improve CSE, ranging from organisational change to changing customer experiences.

Scenarios to help prepare cyber security professionals

According to the Center for Internet Security, technical professionals, admins, and users share the responsibility for security.

The CIS has prepared a series of tabletop exercises to help cyber security professionals and teams secure their systems by means of tactical strategies.

These exercises are intended to assist organisations in comprehending various risk scenarios and preparing for potential cyberthreats.

The exercises Im about to present do not take very long to complete.They are a convenient tool to develop a cyber security mindset.They consist of six scenarios which list relevant processes, threat actors, and impacted assets:

Scenario 1: Malware infection

While using the companys digital camera for work, a staff member takes a picture that he then moves to his personal computer.

He does so by inserting the SD card, which while connected to his PC becomes infected with malware.

Unsuspecting of this fact, he re-inserts the card into his work computer and the malware spreads throughout the organisations system.

The question is how the company will now deal with this issue.

To answer this question, one needs to consider a few additional ones.

The first of these is who youd need to notify within the companys structure.

Its important to identify the vector of the infection and to establish a process for doing so.

In addition, what should managements reaction be?

Are there any other devices that could present a similar risk?

Does the company have policies and training to prevent this and do these apply to all storage devices?

At the core of this scenario is user awareness and detection ability.

Scenario 2: Quick fix

Your underpaid and overworked network administrator is finally going on vacation.

Just as shes packing the last item in her suitcase, her boss asks her to deploy a critical security patch.

She comes up with a quick fix so she can make her flight.

Soon after that, your service desk technician tells you people have been complaining that they cant log in.

It appears the admin did not run any tests for the critical patch she installed.

Does the technician have the skills and knowledge to handle the issue?

If not, whom should it be escalated to?

Does the company have a formal policy to change control in place?

Is staff sufficiently trained to escalate such issues?

Does the company have any disciplinary measures to take if an employee doesnt adhere to policies?

In the event of unexpected adverse impact, does the company have an option to rescind patches?

This is one of the threats that impact an organisations internal network.

Patch management is the process tested.

Scenario 3: An unexpected hacktivist threat

In the wake of an incident involving accusations of use of excessive force by authorities, a hacktivist threatens to attack your company.

You have no idea what kind of attack they are planning.

What measures can you take to best protect your organisation?

What is your reaction?

Again, you need to look at the potential threat vectors.

Perhaps certain vectors have been common in the last few weeks or months.

What methods can be used to prioritise threats?

You must alert your help desk as well as other departments within the organisation to the threat.

A bulletin board is a nifty solution.

You need to check your patch management status if you havent already, and augment IDS and IPS monitoring.

Think about getting outside help if you dont have the resources to manage all this by yourself.

Ask yourself what companies or organisations can help you analyse any malware identified.

Its evident that your response plan should account for such situations.

Your preparation is the process tested.

Your security professionals may be the first line of defense, but as you can see, they cant be the only one.

Your whole organisation needs to be involved, active, adequate, and compliant when security is at stake.

Scenario 4: Financial break-in

Following a financial audit, it emerges that a few people who have never actually worked for the company are receiving paychecks.

You conduct a review, which shows someone added them to the payroll a few weeks earlier, simultaneously, using a computer in the finance department.

How do you react?

The strategy starts with investigating how these people were added to payroll.

Lets say there was a break-in at the finance department prior to the addition.

A few computers were stolen.

However, there was no sensitive data on them, so the incident did not get serious attention.

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Preparing cyber professionals for the real world - ACS

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