Recession or stress?

Issue 2/3 2023 Information Security, News & Events

Anna Collard.

In 2023 there have been so many lay-offs in the technology industry that TechCrunch labelled it a ‘reckoning’ in its extensive list released late April. To date, across numerous organisations that include Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Dropbox and Zoom, to name but a few, there have been nearly 169 000 lay-offs. Meta is expected to lay off 10 000 people in the next few months and Disney 7000 people.

And yet, in cybersecurity there are still more ‘jobs open than people to fill them’. According to Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa, the biggest challenge facing the cybersecurity profession right now is not the sudden loss of a job, but the long-term impact of skills shortages and stress.

“The cybersecurity skills shortage has meant that fewer roles in this profession have been affected by the lay-offs,” she says. “However, there is ongoing job security anxiety for people in the technology industry, regardless of their roles. Cybersecurity professionals are juggling high-demand jobs that are intensely stressful, and they rarely switch off. Security is a 24/7 job where nobody notices the hard work done until something goes wrong.”

A fact echoed by a recent report on the state of SecOps and automation, which found that 93% of security professionals said their alerts had doubled over the past five years. 56% handle around 1000 alerts a day; 83% have alert fatigue. Cybersecurity personnel are batting down the defences and battling it out on a daily basis but, as Collard points out, the moment they slip up, it becomes a blame game, which can make this an intensely toxic environment.

This is reflected in the Tines State of Mental Health in Cybersecurity 2022 report, which reiterated this reality. Around 27% of professionals believed their mental health had declined over the past year, 66% experience stress at work, 64% say their work affects their mental health and 58% are on medication to manage their mental well-being. Only half are in good physical health, with a mere 42% getting a much-needed eight hours of sleep a night.

“This shifts the conversation from plugging the gaps to making cybersecurity significantly healthier for those entering into the profession,” says Collard. “The holes left by limited access to skilled people are not going to be filled if security remains a space where stress goes to thrive. Amidst the recession and the economic crisis, cybersecurity roles remain empty, which says that the problem may not exclusively be lack of skills development.”

Cybersecurity is a fascinating industry and for those who love a challenge and thrive on problem solving, it is a space where they can shine. But not if that is at the expense of their health. There are plenty of stories, told around the cybersecurity campfire, of a CISO having a heart attack in the middle of a security incident, or shortly after. The Tines survey found that nearly 30% of cybersecurity professionals believed their mental health was getting worse.

“Cybersecurity is fun,” says Collard. “It is interesting and dynamic. But these benefits are often overshadowed by that sense of dread that something is about to go horribly wrong. Incidents are unexpected, stressful and often leave teams exhausted, and there is no time to rest before the next incident hits. Cybercriminals are very well rewarded for their diligence when it comes to exploiting every vulnerability they can find. Cybersecurity teams have to chase these vulnerabilities and threats to ensure nothing is left to chance.”

To minimise the risk of losing talented security people, companies need to look beyond the gaps and skills and into providing truly holistic support to their security professionals. This goes beyond upskilling. Now, security teams need mental wellness support that kicks the toxic blame-game dynamic out of the door.

“If you want to attract more people into cybersecurity, you need to put controls in place that minimise the stress and emphasise the value of your people,” concludes Collard.

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