Banking firm, educational institute in cybersecurity skills push

20th September 2019

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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South African banking giant Absa and nonprofit organisation Maharishi Institute have partnered to establish the Absa Cybersecurity Academy in an effort to close a growing global cybersecurity skills gap.

With a global cybersecurity skills shortage of 3.5-million expected within two years and the increasing youth unemployment rate in South Africa, the parties are seizing an opportunity to develop South Africa and the wider African continent into the hub of cybersecurity talent.

Youth aged between 15 and 24 are the most vulnerable in the South African labour market, with the unemployment rate at 55% in the first quarter of this year, while research organisation Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that the global shortfall of cybersecurity jobs will rise to 3.5-million by 2021, says Absa Group chief security officer Sandro Bucchianeri.

“It is our job to prepare the youth for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). We need to invest in upskilling them for the future of work and to meet global cybersecurity demands,” he says.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has noted that Africa needs to be better prepared for both cyber-dependent crimes, in which new computer-based technologies form the basis of new crimes, and cyber-enabled crimes, in which new technologies are used to commit ‘old-style’ crimes, such as money laundering.

“With mobile phone subscriptions across sub-Saharan Africa expected to reach 930-million by the end of this year and the growth of ecommerce and ebanking continentwide, the potential to inflict huge financial, reputational and political damage is clear,” says ISS emerging threats in Africa senior research adviser Karen Allen.

Allen further cites data released by cyber analytics firm Kaspersky Lab revealing that there are 13 842 cyberattacks daily in South Africa, or more than 570 attacks every hour.

“The 4IR is changing the world as we know it, and South Africa is pinning its growth ambitions on a 4IR-enabled economy. But 4IR adoption without putting cybersafety first could undermine growth efforts and expand the risks to manufacturing, heavy industry and key infrastructure,” adds industrial cybersecurity specialist GECI International Middle East and Africa director Mike Bergen.

As digitalisation and the move into a 4IR environment continue, an increasing connection to the Internet and integration into the enterprise information technology environment are quickly expanding risk exposure, with cybercriminals already exploiting vulnerabilities, costing companies millions in ransoms and other damages.

“Research has found that virtually all industrial organisations have come under some form of cyberattack in the past few years. These attacks range from malware and ransomware attacks to targeted attacks designed to sabotage operations or steal sensitive data,” he notes.

Cybersecurity Ventures says that cybercrime will continue to rise, predicting a cost to businesses globally of more than $6-trillion a year by 2021 – a significant increase on the $3-trillion predicted in 2015.

Cybercrime, in effect, will more than triple the number of job openings over the next five years.

The group also predicts global spending on cybersecurity products and services will exceed $1-trillion cumulatively over the five-year period from 2017 to 2021.

Further, in 2004, the global cybersecurity market was worth $3.5-billion and, in 2017, it was expected to be worth more than $120-billion.

The Absa Cybersecurity Academy programme aims to be an externally focused, corporate social responsibility initiative to empower marginalised South African youth to become certified cybersecurity analysts.

The partnership between Absa and Maharishi offers students accredited cybersecurity training, bridging courses and ‘whole person’ development, which includes transcendental meditation and life- and work-ready skills.

It also includes financial support, including bursaries and work experience at Maharishi’s call centres.

“All the students who enrol in the Absa Cybersecurity Academy come from marginalised communities, 36% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, while 70% are females who have been abused in one way or another.”

Each student is developed holistically by balancing the technical, social and emotional skills required to ensure that they are not simply technically competent, but adequately prepared to succeed in the world of work.

Students also receive a nutritious lunch daily, as well as support through placement programmes, including the use of a ‘clothing library’ for corporate interviews.

“The Maharishi Institute was created in 2007 with the ambition of making tertiary education accessible to South Africa’s youth by providing noneducational support for students wanting to access education through accredited educational partners,” says Bucchianeri.

The first 24 students have just written – and passed – their first internationally recognised exam.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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