The world needs cybersecurity experts – Microsoft expands skilling effort with a focus on women

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Today, Microsoft is expanding our Cybersecurity Skills Initiative to Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, and Spain, and delivering grants to nonprofits to help skill people for the cybersecurity workforce. With this expansion, we are now working in 28 countries around the world, partnering with nonprofits and other educational institutions to train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

The past few years have seen cybercriminals target the media, businesses, and governments, and the volume is staggering.  As we cited in our Digital Defense Report last year, the volume of password attacks has risen to an estimated 921 attacks every second – a 74% increase in just one year. Cyberattacks often have devastating impacts – the average cost of a cyber breach has reached $4.35 million.

At the same time, we are facing a global cybersecurity skills crisis. Demand for cybersecurity skills has grown by an average of 35% over the past year. And in some countries, like Brazil, demand has grown as much as 76%. We simply don’t have enough people with the skills to defend against cybersecurity attacks, putting people, businesses, and governments around the world at risk.

In addition to expanding the skilling program to more countries, we are also focusing on helping historically underrepresented populations enter the cybersecurity workforce. Specifically, the opportunity for women to work in cybersecurity is huge. Today, women make up only 25% of the global cybersecurity workforce so it’s more important than ever to encourage and empower women to pursue these careers.

We’ve learned a lot throughout our work so far – and addressing diversity gaps requires intentionality in program design and execution. We must create more inclusive and supportive learning environments, and we see greater success in building confidence and soft skills among women with cohorts that are majority women. We also know that learners benefit most when training programs lead to industry-recognized certifications, and we see increased success when training organizations work directly with employers.

That is why we are launching a series of new partnerships with organizations focused on skilling women in cybersecurity. The partnerships include:

  • WOMCY, a nonprofit focused on growing opportunity for women in cybersecurity in Latin America
  • Women4Cyber, a foundation working to promote and support the participation of women in cybersecurity in Europe
  • The International Telecommunications Union – an agency of the United Nations – supporting their Women in Cyber Mentorship Program with a special emphasis on the Middle East, Africa, and Asia
  • WiCyS, a global community of women, allies, and advocates dedicated to advancing women in cybersecurity
  • We’re also partnering at the country and local level to grow the number of women in the field, working with organizations like the Kosciuszko Institute in Poland, a skilling and internship program for women, including Ukrainian refugees, and more than 20 other nonprofit organizations that are similarly focused on training women learners towards employment opportunities

Finally, we have learned that nonprofits, higher education, and other skilling organizations relish the opportunity to learn from each other through facilitated exchanges, and bringing them together to share best practices helps scale impact. As a result, our expanded strategy will include a community of practice to support the continued growth of our nonprofit partners.

The need for cybersecurity skills

Working with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), last month we released part one of a study to the public, providing details on the skills gap in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The report found the demand for cybersecurity professionals has increased significantly over the last decade: In June 2022, there were as many as 16 times the number of cybersecurity job advertisements as in 2012 – almost double the speed of expansion recorded for all new job postings in the same period.

Beyond these countries, today we’re also releasing a new dashboard to help illuminate the cybersecurity skills gap in the 28 countries where we are now working:

Impact thus far

To date, globally, we’ve trained more than 400,000 people through a variety of channels, including Microsoft Learn, where people have earned valuable security training certificates, and through LinkedIn Learning courses, including systems administration, network security, and more. And we’re partnering with educational institutions and nonprofits throughout the world for even greater impact.

We’re seeing success at a country-by-country level. In India, our CyberShikshaa program is working to close the gender divide in the cybersecurity field. Since its inception, CyberShikshaa has trained 1,250 women and employed more than 800 women. The newest addition to the program’s portfolio, CyberShikshaa for Educators with ICT Academy, will provide cybersecurity training to 400 faculty members so they can help build cybersecurity careers for 6,000 underserved students across 100 rural technical institutions and facilitate job opportunities for over 1,500 students.

Our program has helped women across the globe start careers in the cybersecurity industry, such as Eva Nassery in France, Chaeyeon Sagong in South Korea, and Sneha Banerjee in India. These efforts are having tremendous impacts on a personal scale. An example is Aimee Reyes – who was facing homelessness but, after receiving training support through one of our nonprofit partners, started a career in cybersecurity. In Aimee’s words, this allowed her to “keep that promise to myself … [and] move forward not just in my career but in a sense of self-worth.” With today’s news, we hope to make sure that Aimee’s story can be one of many.

What’s next, what’s needed

We know we can’t solve this problem ourselves. This problem is too large and too urgent. We need governments, the private sector, and the education sector working together to solve it. I’m encouraged by recent progress, like the European Union’s call for enabling digital education and providing digital skills as well as the launch of the Cybersecurity Skills Academy, aiming to increase the number of European professionals trained in cybersecurity. This is a good step forward. But we need all hands on deck – around the world – to protect people from escalating cybercriminal activity.

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