Cybersecurity and diversity are high-value topics that are most often discussed in isolation. Both topics resonate with individuals and organizations alike.
However, the intersections between cybersecurity and diversity are often overlooked. As nations and organizations seek to protect their critical infrastructures, it’s important to cultivate relationships between the two areas. Diversity is no longer only a social awareness and morality initiative; it is a core element of defending critical infrastructures.
Communities Need to Play a Greater Role in Cybersecurity
Technology careers typically pay more than other careers, providing a pathway to a quality lifestyle. With multiple entry points into the technology field — including degrees, apprenticeships and industry certifications — there are ways that varying communities can take part in technology careers, especially in cybersecurity. For instance, communities can improve cybersecurity education for women, minorities and home users.
Workforce Gaps Involving Women and Minorities Weakens Cybersecurity Defenses
Limited awareness and exposure to cybersecurity education often creates an opportunity gap for minorities and women. Failing to incorporate underserved populations limits the talent and size of our cybersecurity workforce. Without an all-inclusive cyber workforce, our critical infrastructure will have a talent gap, introducing additional system vulnerabilities.
To rectify this problem, communities must implement permanent efforts to ensure that children attending schools in underserved districts have access to technology and courses. That will better prepare them to become cyber workers.
This infusion of technology talent helps to protect our nation’s vital digital assets. Organizations must make their recruitment and retention practices more inclusive. Ideally, they should provide opportunities to individuals who are either trained or are willing to undergo training to have a pathway to a successful career.
Additionally, higher education institutions should find ways to ensure that minorities and women have the support they need as they progress through their technology degrees. In addition, universities and colleges can offer cybersecurity faculty and mentors who can help these groups prepare for meaningful careers.
Cybersecurity Training Must Be Improved for Home Users
Another intersection of cybersecurity and diversity is at the user level. Most cybersecurity discussions center on the protection of government or corporate systems. Organizations spend significant portions of their budgets to prepare for and protect against cyberattacks.
Unfortunately, home users are often left out of such conversations; they are not considered part of any holistic cyber defense plan. With the large number of home users with multiple devices, the vulnerabilities of home systems provide hackers with easy attack opportunities.
Consequently, attackers access and compromise home devices, which allows them to attack other systems. In addition, these hackers can mask their true location and increase their computing power. They can then carry out their attacks more efficiently.
Compromising an individual’s personal device presents additional opportunities for attackers to access that person’s credentials as well as other sensitive workplace data. However, strong organization policies should dictate what information can be accessed remotely.
To increase home users’ threat awareness level, organizations should develop training programs as a part of community involvement initiatives. Vendors should strengthen default security settings for home users and ensure that home security protections are affordable and not difficult to configure.
Organizational Cultures Need to Emphasize that All Employees are Cyber Defenders
Diversity and cybersecurity also intersect at the organizational culture level. Regardless of whether or not organizations have an information systems security department, companies must foster the right type of security-minded workplace culture. All employees should be aware that they are intricate components in protecting the organization’s critical digital assets.
Educational institutions can support this effort by incorporating cyber awareness training across disciplines. This will give all graduates — regardless of their degrees — some exposure to cyber risks and their role in protecting digital assets.
Cybersecurity and Diversity Should Work Together, Not in Silos
Cybersecurity and diversity will continue to be important topics. The focus, however, should be on discussing the importance of their mutual support, rather than functioning in two separate silos. Improving our cyber defenses requires the best of all segments of our society, which includes minorities, women and home users.
Read “The Trust Factor: Cybersecurity’s Role in Sustaining Business Momentum” to learn more.
Dr. Kevin Harris is the Program Director for Information Systems Security and Information Technology Management and also serves as the alternate Cyber Center Director at American Military University. He has more than 20 years of experience in the information technology field with positions ranging from systems analyst to CIO. He performs research on the digital divide and works to ensure a trained cyber workforce in the country. He earned his bachelor of science in computer information systems from Lincoln University in Missouri, his master of science in computer management information systems from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and his Doctorate of Business Administration with an emphasis in information systems from Argosy University.