Optus and CBA head back to uni to solve the cyber security skills crisis

The lack of cyber security professionals is fast becoming a national crisis. Australia's biggest businesses see an opportunity to help solve it

Professor Ben Schreer, head of the Macquarie University’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology, speaking at the Optus Macquarie Cyber Security Hub launch on Monday.

Professor Ben Schreer, head of the Macquarie University’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology, speaking at the Optus Macquarie Cyber Security Hub launch on Monday.

The lack of cyber security professionals in Australia is fast becoming a national crisis. A survey this week found that 88 per cent of local businesses were struggling with their lack of skills. The government described the “critical shortage” as a “major problem” in its national cyber security strategy. The situation, it said, was “urgent’”.

Australia’s biggest businesses are taking the matter into their own hands, collaborating with universities to attract more talent to the industry. As well as helping ease the shortage, they are also seeking competitive advantage by bolstering their own security capability and that of their customers.

One such partnership is the [[artnid: 600695 |Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub]] which launched on Monday, the result of a $10 million investment by Optus’ enterprise arm, Optus Business.

Win, win, win

For students the hub will provide the education and qualifications that will make them among the most employable and best paid graduates in the country. For the university it is an opportunity to undertake original research into cyber governance, security risks and international threats.

For the telco it is part of what Optus Business managing director John Paitaridis called a “very important strategic initiative”. “[We’re] very focused on being a leading managed cyber security organisation in this country,” he said.

David Wilkinson, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor (corporate engagement and advancement) said cyber security had “become one of the defining issues of this decade”. Attacks against Australian businesses and government agencies are ever increasing in frequency and sophistication.

“We don’t believe that these organisations, in many cases, are equipped to deal with the challenges,” says Paitaridis. “They lack expertise, lack the budgets in some respects, and most importantly, they lack the skills.”

Cyber security is a growing part of the telco’s enterprise offering. Optus Business is “uniquely placed”, Paitaridis said, to offer its customers cyber security services and consultancy on top of its suite of enterprise communication solutions.

“Clearly now cyber security as an attribute needs to be a part of all these solutions, so customers see us as a very natural partner for enterprise cyber security services,” he said. “We're taking that to the next level in also equipping and training the workforces of our customer base as well, in supporting them with their cyber sec strategies.”

The hub, situated at Macquarie University’s North Ryde campus in Sydney, is a key part of that support, with short courses aimed at executives and professional courses on offer alongside the undergraduate degree programmes.

As well as the courses, Optus Business’ customers, and those organisations that take up hub membership, will be offered ‘opportunities for engagement with students and staff to recruit workplace-ready graduates’ – a commodity in high demand and short supply.

Scouting for cyber

“We have lots of companies that come to speak to us in order to approach undergrads and say, ‘Look do you want to work for us after you have graduated?’” says Professor Ben Schreer, head of the university’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology. “It’s not automatic of course, but by and large you can really see that the good students, with a good education in that space, are attractive for a lot of companies. “

For undergraduates, the hub will offer two related degrees, including Bachelor of Information Technology majoring in Cyber Security. For postgraduates, there is the opportunity to specialise in Internetworking and Cyber Security among other related subjects. As well as the technical aspects, the courses also cover the commercial and societal implications of cyber attacks.

They are already proving very popular Schreer said, with “significant” levels of enrolment. Universities across Australia are “reacting to the demand of the market” while students are increasingly savvy to the employment opportunities in the sector.

“Unis are reacting to the demand, students are reacting to the demand,” Schreer explains, “partly because employability becomes ever more important to students. Cyber security is valuable for the job market and so students are drawn to it.”

“If you think about the numbers of the cyber enabled workforce that we need across this country – it’s massive,” he adds. “We’re talking about thousands and thousands of students…if you have students with expertise, and knowledge, and training, that of course makes them attractive.”

The Commonwealth Bank launched its own centre of expertise the University of New South Wales earlier this year. The $1.6 million, five-year partnership includes the development of an applied cyber security undergraduate curriculum which commenced online in March, the establishment of a security engineering lab, and support for PhD researchers.

It enables us to support innovation in Australia as well as aligning ourselves with innovation that we believe will materially benefit our customers and shareholders over the next decade,” said the bank’s CEO, Ian Narev.

National benefit

Although there is competitive advantage to be gained by those companies supporting education in cyber subjects, the outcome helps the nation too. Both Optus Business' and the Commonwealth Bank's hubs sponsor research and innovation in the area.

Speaking in his capacity as deputy chair of the Australian Information Industry Association, Paitaridis added: “We are very focused on ensuring as a country, as an economy, as an industry, that we are cyber ready. That we’re building out our capabilities, that we’re investing in our cyber defences at the enterprise level and the government level and also driving some competitive advantage in this space.

“This is a critical area — we must support and protect our enterprises and our government agencies from attacks. We need an ecosystem response, we need industry, we need academia and we need government working together to tackle it.”

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