Now in its 18th year, Cybersecurity Awareness Month (CSAM) in October is a global initiative first launched by the US Department of Homeland Security and National Cyber Security Alliance to raise awareness of the role everyone can play in improving cyber security.

By Doros Hadjizenonos, regional sales manager at Fortinet

This year’s theme: “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart” is designed to encourage enterprises and employees around the world to be more vigilant about cyber security. However, in South Africa, it could also be a call to action to young people to look to cyber security as a new defence frontier, and a potential career opportunity.

Cyber skills gap a top challenge for global organisations

The shortage of skilled cyber security professionals numbers in the millions globally – affecting up to 82% of organisations – and possibly tens of thousands in South Africa.

The Life and Times of Cybersecurity Professionals 2021 report from the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) and the industry analyst Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) shows that the cybersecurity skills shortage has not improved and the ISACA’s State of Cybersecurity 2021 reports that 55% of survey respondents have unfilled cybersecurity positions.

At the same time, cyber attacks are soaring. FortiGuard Lab’s mid-year Global Threat Landscape Report reveals that ransomware alone has grown over 10-fold over the past 12 months.

Cybercrime has grown so huge and lucrative that without enough good guys to keep them safe, businesses and individuals alike are in jeopardy.

Skills in waiting

In the face of a growing cyber crime onslaught, industry leaders, governments and civil society are questioning where the necessary cyber security skills will come from to defend organisations against the risks.

In South Africa, we believe the answer to the skills shortage lies within our ranks of smart, but unemployed youth. With up to 44% of our labour force without work and as many as 59,5% of unemployed people under the age of 35, we have a vast army of potentially tech-savvy people capable of being trained into cyber security positions. What’s more, many of these unemployed young people have tertiary qualifications: the graduate unemployment rate is 40,3% for those aged 15-24 and 15,5% among those aged 25-34.

With the right training and experience, these young people have the potential to bolster a new cyber defence force to support the country’s 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) development.

Closing the gap

Fortinet is committed to closing the cybersecurity skills gap challenge by providing training, certifications and resources through its Training Advancement Agenda (TAA) initiatives and NSE Training Institute programmes.

Fortinet has made all of its self-paced online courses from the Network Security Expert (NSE) Training Institute available for free, to give all levels of students or ICT practitioners a foundational and advanced understanding of cybersecurity tools and principles. Since making more than 30 courses available for free to anyone worldwide, there have been more than 1-million registrations for the free training courses. Those interested in transitioning into a career in cybersecurity can also take advantage of Fortinet’s education pathways to enhance their skill sets in specialised areas such as Security Operations, Security-Driven Networking, Adaptive Cloud Security, Zero Trust Access.

Meanwhile, the Security Academy Program enables educational institutions around the world to help learners become part of an elite group of skilled cybersecurity professionals. There are now 420 authorised Security Academies in 85 countries and territories around the world, including five in South Africa.