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Cybersecurity skills shortage continues to worsen

This week, bloggers explore the cybersecurity skills shortage, the challenges of deploying edge computing and how best to mitigate Meltdown in a software-centric environment.

Jon Oltsik, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass., said the global cybersecurity skills shortage...

is bad and getting worse. According to Oltsik, skills shortages among various networking disciplines have not eased -- and the cybersecurity shortage is particularly acute -- citing ESG's annual survey on the state of IT. For instance in 2014, 23% of respondents said that their organization faced a problematic shortage of cybersecurity skills. In the most current survey, which polled more than 620 IT and cybersecurity professionals, 51% said they faced a cybersecurity skills shortage. The data aligns with the results of an ESG-ISSA survey in 2017 that found 70% of cybersecurity professionals reporting their organizations were affected by the skills shortage -- resulting in increased workloads and little time for planning.

"I can only conclude that the cybersecurity skills shortage is getting worse," Oltsik said. "Given the dangerous threat landscape and a relentless push toward digital transformation, this means that the cybersecurity skills shortage represents an existential threat to developed nations that rely on technology as the backbone of their economy."

Chief information security officers (CISOs), Oltsik said, need to consider the implications of the cybersecurity skills shortage. Smart leaders are doing their best to cope by consolidating systems, such as integrated security operations and analytics platform architecture, and adopting artificial intelligence and machine learning. In other cases, CISOs automate processes, adopt a portfolio management approach and increase staff compensation, training and mentorship to improve retention.

Dig deeper into Oltsik's ideas on the cybersecurity skills shortage.

Building up edge computing power

Erik Heidt, an analyst at Gartner, spent part of 2017 discussing edge computing challenges with clients as they worked to improve computational power for IoT projects. Heidt said a variety of factors drive compute to the edge (and in some cases, away), including availability, data protection, cycle times and data stream filtering. In some cases, computing capability is added directly to an IoT endpoint. But in many situations, such as data protection, it may make more sense to host an IoT platform in an on-premises location or private data center.

Yet the private approach poses challenges, Heidt said, including licensing costs, capacity issues and hidden costs from IoT platform providers that limit users to certified hardware. Heidt recommends purchasing teams look carefully at what functions are being offered by vendors, as well as considering data sanitization strategies to enable more use of the cloud. "There are problems that can only be solved by moving compute, storage and analytical capabilities close to or into the IoT endpoint," Heidt said.

Read more of Heidt's thoughts on the shift to the edge.

Meltdown has parallels in networking

Ivan Pepelnjak, writing in IPSpace, responded to a reader's question about how hardware issues become software vulnerabilities in the wake of the Meltdown vulnerability. According to Pepelnjak, there has always been privilege-level separation between kernels and user space. Kernels have always been mapped to high-end addresses in user space, but in more recent CPUs, operations needed to execute just a single instruction often following a pipeline with dozens of different instructions -- thus exposing the vulnerability an attack like Meltdown can exploit.

In these situations, the kernel space location test fails once the command is checked against the access control list (ACL), but by then other parts of the CPU have already carried out instructions designed to call up the memory location.

Parallelized execution isn't unique to CPU vendors. Pepelnjak said at least one hardware vendor created a version of IPv6 neighbor discovery that suffers from the same vulnerability. In response, vendors are rolling out operating system patches removing the kernel from user space. This approach prevents exploits but no longer gives the kernel direct access to the user space when it is needed. As a result, in many cases the kernel needs to change virtual-to-physical page tables, mapping user space into kernel page tables. Every single system call, even reading a byte from one file, means the kernel page tables need to be unmapped.

Explore more of Pepelnjak's thoughts on network hardware vulnerabilities.

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