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RSA Academic Alliance Programme – Plugging the cybersecurity talent gap

Jul 14, 2019 | by RSA |

Cyber incidents in 2018 have cost a staggering US$45 billion in losses, with actual numbers expected to be much higher as many cyber incidents are never reported.  As organisations scramble to defend themselves, it's clear that one of the most crucial cybersecurity challenges may be one of manpower. It's no secret that as cybercriminals become increasingly organised and aggressive, the teams that defend against their attacks are struggling to fill their ranks. A Frost & Sullivan report found that the global cybersecurity workforce will have more than 1.5 million unfilled positions by 2020.  By linking security incidents with business context, RSA already protects millions of users around the globe and helps more than 90% of the Fortune 500 companies, but we are also taking cybersecurity's worldwide talent shortage extremely seriously.

RSA began addressing this generational challenge in 2014 by collaborating with Singapore's leading institutes of higher learning to form an Academic Alliance Programme, the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

Singapore's Temasek Polytechnic (TP) was the first to partner with RSA, creating a joint Security Operations Centre (SOC) on campus. A curriculum was tailor-made to teach students in the Cyber & Digital Security and Digital Forensics courses how to effectively monitor, detect and respond to cyber threats. The SOC provides students with the opportunity to work in an operational environment equipped with advanced technologies in IT security and analytics. Crucially, this collaboration lets students experience hands-on what it's like working in a real SOC monitoring real networks – not just a simulated one.

Each year, about a hundred full-time TP diploma students are forged into cybersecurity professionals. It comes as no surprise that the majority of the programme's graduates find

jobs waiting for them and top students are routinely cherry-picked by big enterprises.

Growing the programme, RSA next collaborated with Singapore's Republic Polytechnic (RP) with a curriculum focusing on teaching their diploma students how to hunt for advanced threats. Realistic cyberattacks are simulated in a lab environment with students learning to work as a team to conduct their forensic investigations. In January 2019, another Republic Polytechnic-RSA-Ensign Cyber Threat Intelligence Centre was launch.  The new Centre will enable RP students from the Diploma in Infocomm Security Management (DISM) to encounter and manage realistic cyber threat scenarios as part of their training. 

The centre is a collaboration with pure-play computer and network security companies, RSA Security and Ensign Infosecurity. It focuses on research of the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile malware, specifically on cyber threat monitoring and threat intelligence for IoT and mobile devices.

This shines a spotlight again on why RSA's Academic Alliance Programme is important to us.  Through these innovation-related academic and technical collaboration, it addresses the regional countries lack of expertise and talent as they drive towards Smart City status.  The students learn and evolve to better identify and manage the complex risks associate with digitalization in forms of both IT system transformation and critical asset protection. 

The facility is equipped with high-end industry-standard security monitoring hardware, with RSA providing the security monitoring and analytics hardware/software and Ensign Infosecurity the fiber broadband connection and IoT devices. Both also contribute technical experts and security analysts so that students have opportunities to work alongside industry partners and gain exposure to industry-leading products and technologies.

Activities in the centre will directly enhance the DISM course curriculum and develop in-house research capabilities of academic staff and students, as well as engineers of the centre's collaborative organisations.

January 2019 also saw two more higher learning institutions in Malaysia join in the RSA Academic Alliance Program: Sunway University (SunU) and Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology (MJIIT).

SunU, one of the reputable private Tertiary Institution in Malaysia, is funded by the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation. SunU has links and exchange programs with prestigious universities like Lancaster, Le Cordon Bleu, UC Berkeley, Cambridge, Harvard & Oxford.

The collaboration between RSA and SunU is also an attempt to address the shortage of cybersecurity professionals in Malaysia and globally. A private survey done by the Cybersecurity Chapter of PIKOM (National ICT Association of Malaysia) with CIO's reveals there is a significant shortage of cybersecurity talent in Malaysia with companies willing to recruit the necessary talent from Universities with relevant training like the Academic SOC curriculum. Facing the same challenge, SunU and its parent company, Sunway Group Malaysia, are committed to help train and supply the industry and itself) with such talents.

Students and lecturers have a SOC environment to support the curriculum with simulated hands-on experience. Students are exposed to simulated real-life cyber attacks and acquired knowledge to manage and respond to such attacks.

With increased public awareness and student intake, the new SunU curriculum is expected to produce about a hundred cybersecurity talent annually.

SunU leverages the new curriculum and SOC as a key differentiator to improve the institution's reputation and ranking, strengthen revenue and stay relevant with industry needs. SunU Executives were inspired by the success of the Temasek Polytechnic-RSA SOC and Republic Polytechnic-RSA SOC.

MJIIT is a collaboration with Japan with similar motivation as SunU. MJIIT was also inspired by the success of the Republic Polytechnic-RSA SOC and RSA's collaboration with Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) to produce cybersecurity talent to meet the significant talent shortage in Malaysia and globally. MJIIT is introducing a new and broader cybersecurity curriculum but leveraging a similar academic SOC.

The combination of these two universities will produce more than one hundred cybersecurity professionals by early 2020, and is expected to grow rapidly to continue to fill the talent shortage in Malaysia.

RSA will continue our relentless effort to enable tertiary institutions to produce the cybersecurity talent so desperately needed by the industry to fortify its systems to mitigate against digital risk.

Initiated in Singapore, the Academic Alliance Programme has generated interest from higher learning institutions across ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand to develop a new generation of cybersecurity professionals to better assist people and organisations to mitigate against cyber threats and cyber fraud. In addition to collaborating with  higher learning institutions, RSA recognises the benefits of increasing cybersecurity awareness amongst younger students.

RSA's Cyber Safety for Kids Programme complements the Singapore Cyber Security Agency and Ministry of Education's efforts in educating primary school students on safe use of the Internet. Since its inception in 2016, more than 22,000 students have participated in the programme with plans for RSA to continue expanding the reach annually.

The lack of skilled cybersecurity talent is a real global challenge and RSA plans to extend the Academic Alliance Programme across Asia-Pacific and beyond. Start young, start right – we at RSA aim to continue nurturing and training the much-needed next generation security experts in today's fast-changing world.

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