IT security scares boost demand for cybersecurity

IT security scares boost demand for cybersecurity

Fear of being hacked and losing confidential information, in the wake of the recent spate of cybersecurity scares, is driving companies to beef up their IT security.

This has translated into higher demand for cybercops and requests for information technology security services to keep companies safe from crooks online, Digital Life was told.

Recruitment firms and IT security companies said demand comes mainly from multinational corporations, financial institutions and government agencies, although smaller players in the financial services sector also said they need more IT security experts.

Finding enough qualified people could be challenging.

More cybercops wanted

Capita Staffing & Search, a recruitment firm, said demand, mostly from system integrators and IT service providers, was up 10 to 15 per cent in the first half of the year, over the same period last year.

High-profile local breaches of IT security, including the hacking of the Istana and Prime Minister's Office websites, have made firms more aware of the need for better security, a Capita spokesman said.

Adding to this was a video posted online last year by a man styling himself as "The Messiah". He declared "war" on the Government through "aggressive cyberintrusion" and claimed to be linked to the hacker collective Anonymous.

Robert Half Singapore, a human resource company, said it had seen demand for IT security professionals across industries grow 30 per cent in the last 12 months and pay for such staff rise 10 per cent in a year.

Its managing director, Ms Stella Tang, said: "In medium to large companies and financial institutions which are building teams consisting of analysts to architects, IT security people are usually hired to work in a dedicated security department or team."

The company's own survey found that 39 per cent of banks and financial services companies polled said they planned to hire more permanent staff to manage cybersecurity matters. The survey, released in June, polled 150 senior financial services leaders here in the wake of IT security scares involving commerce websites and financial institutions.

Auction site eBay revealed in May that cybercriminals had stolen customers' personal data, including names, encrypted passwords, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, home addresses and dates of birth, though it said financial and credit card details were not accessed.

In Singapore, Standard Chartered said in December that data on 647 private banking clients was stolen from a server at Fuji Xerox, which prints account statements for the bank.

The sectors most targeted by cybersecurity attacks last year - 46 per cent of all attacks - were finance, insurance and real estate, according to IT security firm Symantec.

Its senior manager for security response, Mr Eugene Teo, explained that because Singapore is a centre for many business sectors, "there is a greater motive for cybercriminals to cast an eye on the country".

Security companies have also been receiving more requests from clients. Data security firm Imperva would not give numbers beyond claiming that demand for its services had more than doubled in the first half of the year over the same period last year.

Mr Stree Naidu, vice-president of Imperva Asia Pacific and Japan, said: "Companies are more aware of cybersecurity risks and want to ensure their valuable data and customer information are not compromised. A breach in cybersecurity can lead to a loss of sales, and more importantly, a loss of customer trust."

IT security firm Trend Micro said that for every request for an investigation into IT security breaches it received last year, it expects to get three this year.

Said Mr David Siah, its country manager for Singapore: "Many of these organisations already have cyberdefences in place, but the breaches are caused by unknown malware, or sophisticated targeted attacks that breach their existing defences. Sometimes, they know something is wrong but can't pinpoint the problem."

Manpower shortage

Mr Siah, who chairs the Cloud Security Alliance in Singapore, said there is not enough cybersecurity expertise to meet the surge in demand for security services.

Capita's spokesman agreed, adding that there are generally more IT security job openings than there are qualified people.

The number of IT security specialists actually shrank from 1,500 in 2011 to 1,200 in 2012, according to the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.

With vacancies burgeoning, skills in short supply include malware analysis, cyberintrusion detection, digital forensics, data loss prevention, ethical hacking and compliance development, companies said.

So some security companies, including Imperva and FireEye have resorted to setting up their own training centres for the region.

FireEye plans to train and hire more than 100 cybersecurity professionals over the next two years, under a tie-up with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.

Institutes here have developed cybersecurity programmes as well. Next month, the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) will launch an honours degree course in computer security. The degree will be awarded by Britain's Northumbria University.

MDIS said about 50 full-time and part-time students will join the first intake.

"We're grooming students for the industry, so almost 90 per cent of the modules are practical and hands-on. When they graduate, they'll be ready to work in the industry," said Mr Vaithilingam Mullaikodi, head of MDIS' School of Technology and E-Learning.

The Government is also taking steps to plug the shortage by offering more scholarships for degrees and diplomas in cybersecurity, and getting tertiary institutions to include cybersecurity in their curriculum.

Several new programmes have been developed by schools here. Singapore Polytechnic launched a Cyber Security Academy in December which began conducting courses in January. The courses are meant for IT professionals who want to be trained in cybersecurity.

kennyc@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 20 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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