As businesses and organisations around the world shore up their defences against cyber threats, the demand for cybersecurity experts has increased dramatically.

But supply is not keeping up.

Although Australia is facing a general IT skills shortage, the lack of cyber experts might be attributed to the special set of skills needed for these roles, although Australia is well-poised to become a breeding ground for cyber-security professionals.

Richard Buckland is a Professor in Cyberwar, Cybercrime, and Cyberterror at the University of New South Wales.

His experience with sending cyber students into the workforce has been tremendously positive.

“I certainly meet employers a lot and they’re really keen to come out to the uni and meet the students,” Professor Buckland told Information Age.

“They often ask if I can put them in touch with some of my good students and I have to say ‘I can’t because they’ve already got jobs’.”

The wide range of skills required to excel in cyber means there is often a dearth of talented specialists.

“You have to be learning a lot because it’s changing quickly, your knowledge has to be broad as well as deep, and you have to be a bit of a rascal,” Professor Buckland said.

“There’s certainly a lot of people like that but the combination of all three is probably a little bit rare.”

This last trait – being a rascal – is especially important to thrive in cybersecurity’s attacker/defender world.

“Cyber’s all about breaking the rules so we need people with a devious, lateral thinking, skeptical mindset,” Professor Buckland said.

“It means being playful and pushing the limits, but I don’t want to suggest rascal means anti-social.”

Professor Richard Buckland. Source: UNSW

For employers and educators alike, the idea of fostering non-conventional thinking can trigger alarm bells. Not only does Professor Buckland think the education system ought to encourage more rascal thinking and less conformity, he has also discovered a profound level of trustworthiness in unlikely places.

“Although they’re rascals, I’ve never met anyone in the field of cybersecurity that isn’t incredibly ethical,” he said.

“They have very strong values. The values aren’t necessarily always the same as society’s values but they’re wonderful value-driven people, I have found.

“The community polices itself with a set of the values and ethics built around being part of a team.”

Even if these various traits are rare to find in combination, Professor Buckland thinks Australia is uniquely positioned to continue producing high-quality cybersecurity experts.

“Australia is well-placed to have great cyber strength because our national characteristics of fairness, of decency, our sense of patriotism, coupled with a sense of skepticism, a sense of humour, and a sense of rascal playfulness — and really that’s the perfect storm for a good cyber person.”