CYBERCOM struggling to retain top talent, as big money in the private sector luring away DoD recruits

( If the U.S. military’s Cyber Command is to retain top talent in the future to help defend the country against hacking and nation-state cyber attacks, the Pentagon, Congress and the president – and taxpayers – will have to come up with additional funding to keep them.

That’s because increasingly, as cybersecurity becomes a top concern for major companies as well as federal and state governments, the private sector is able to offer cyber professionals much better salaries and is thus able to lure top talent away from the Defense Department.

As reported by CIO, Maj. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force, discussed this struggle recently in an online event hosted by Federal News Radio.

Nakasone explained that at Cyber Command, “the mission attracts most” in the recruiting work at the inter-service unit that conducts a range of military defensive and offensive cyber activities.

“We offer a sense of service to the nation, rigorous training, innovative approaches to hard problems of national security, and an opportunity to build a phenomenal network across that spans defense, interagency, allies and industry,” Nakasone said.

“Yet, even with this, we need to continue to offer some additional pay and benefits,” he added. “We must identify and recognize our best talent.”

Since its establishment in 2009, U.S. Cyber Command, which was set up to consolidate military responses to a rising tide of Internet-based attacks on government and industry IT systems, has competed for top talent with the private sector, where often firms can offer substantially higher salaries and benefits packages than the government.

However, like officials at other federal cybersecurity divisions, Nakasone pointed out that the kind of mission set assigned to Cyber Command in and of itself can inspire civic-minded security experts to consider working for the government, at least for a while. And even if government service remains a revolving door, as personnel regularly rotate back into the private sector, Nakasone said he doesn’t see that situation as a total loss for the American people. Rather, he said, he views it as a furtherance of CYBERCOM’s overall mission.

“[W]e also must consider our work in training and building talent may often benefit the greater good, regardless of where your career takes you in cybersecurity,” he said.

Still, “”Talent management is the most important thing we do,” he said. “The near-term challenge we must address is keeping the already high level of trained, talented personnel on our teams.”

Cyber Command’s National Mission Force is comprised of 39 times located at various places around the country. Some 80 percent of the personnel are U.S. military, while the balance is comprised of civilians. Nakasone said that the average team member is 28 years old and about half have combat experience. Every employee has at least a high school diploma, but only 37 percent have four-year college degrees and even fewer, 13 percent, have graduate degrees.

As CIO notes further:

One of the perennial challenges in the cyber arena is the attribution of attacks, a task that is complicated by a tangled and sometimes interrelated cast of malicious actors, ranging from hostile foreign governments to non-state entities such as terrorist organizations, criminals and activist hackers. But within that complex environment, the activities of nations like China, Iran and Russia pose the greatest challenge.

“The most significant threats to the United States in cyberspace come from select nation-states, but we continue to watch closely for signs of non-state actors aimed against both government and private sector targets,” Nakasone said, adding that Cyber Command also actively looks out “for signs of non-state actors making significant improvements in their cyber capabilities.”

“[W]e need to better integrate our forces into the planning and execution of operations across the Department of Defense, [and] to build even stronger partnerships across the U.S. government, with allies and industry,” he said.

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