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Five men speak about cybersecurity during a Zoom call.

Regional Report: How Greater Phoenix, companies are adjusting to cybersecurity demands

Greater Phoenix positioned to become cybersecurity leader

As the workforce transitioned to remote capacities during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, the demand for cybersecurity increased alongside the number of malicious phishing and ransomware attacks targeting employees and businesses.

More than 70 cybersecurity companies operate out of Greater Phoenix and the region has seen a 361% growth in information security analyst employment. This heightened call for industry labor and has created new local career opportunities amidst the international shortage.

Industry leaders joined our regional report to discuss cybersecurity trends and the latest GPEC cybersecurity industry report.

Panelists included:

  • Drew Callow, Research Analyst, GPEC
  • Max Chan, CIO, Avnet
  • Andrew Howard, CEO, Kudelski Security
  • Chris Richardson, Interim CIO, Arizona Department of Education
  • Moderator: Eric Sperling, Social Television Network

“We are well-positioned to become a global leader in the coming years,” Callow said. 

Greater Phoenix’s cybersecurity position

The global cybersecurity skills gap surpassed 3 million people in 2020, leaving over half of the global firms significantly exposed to cyberattacks. The U.S. makes up for more than 10% of this shortage.

Many factors were at play in creating this deficiency. There is a widening skills gap, increased IT security needs of the cloud, innovation in blockchain and the integration of artificial intelligence and automation.

“Attacks seem like they’re at the highest level than ever before,” Howard said.

“Ransomware is taking off. Now you have a monetization scenario, and also what we see in the market is attackers are getting smarter about what they attack … Yes, they can go attack one company and extract funds from that company. They could go attack their supply chain and extract funds from everyone that supply chain serves.”

Despite these international shortcomings, Greater Phoenix holds a strong position relative to competitor markets.

Since 2010, the region has seen a 361% increase in cybersecurity jobs, about twice as much as the national average. It was faster than expected, as there are 1,600 more jobs than foreseen, a more significant difference than any competitor market.

The region's outsized cybersecurity employment growth is attributable to the unique economic, natural and cultural characteristics that make Greater Phoenix an attractive location for cyber professionals, Callow said. 

The software and IT ecosystems cultivated in Greater Phoenix through the decades have helped the region become the fifth-largest data center market in the U.S., and programs like the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics at Arizona State University address the future workforce and innovative technology.

However, Greater Phoenix has not escaped the dearth of cybersecurity experts plaguing the country, which has a shortage of almost 360,000 employees across the U.S. The region needs to focus on continued investment in K-12 STEM education, the promotion of public-private collaboration in workforce development, upskilling opportunities and investment in digital infrastructure.

“Closing this gap requires strategic investment and public/private collaboration among employers, educators, and government at local and regional level,” Callow said.

Download our cybersecurity industry report.

Cybersecurity education, reskilling and infrastructure

The acceleration of reliance on the cloud increases the importance of properly addressing this issue. The global cloud storage market, $49 billion in 2019, is expected to approach $300 billion by 2027.

More private information will be online and on a variety of servers due to remote work. Because of that, employee education is more paramount than ever.

While offices can spend money to hire elite cybersecurity protection, it’s not always necessary to devote vast amounts of resources.

“More important than any technology they can buy (is the use of) secure authentication, secure data storage, secure networking, configuring computers correctly, patching them properly and on time -- these types of things pay huge dividends, and a lot of organizations just aren't doing the right things there, and instead spending a lot of money on kind of flashy solutions,” Howard said.

 As more offices transition to remote or hybrid work models, the value of these tools increases.

“(Employees) do not have the necessary infrastructure to protect themselves, and hence, protect the environment,” Chan said. “Whether or not you're able to drive vigilance around the organization with your employees is very key to ensure that we are protecting ourselves from this very quick point of entry to the organization.”

Universities are also providing wider swaths of education toward cybersecurity training.

ASU’s Fulton School of Engineering, which has more than 29,000 students, has increased nearly 150% more graduates annually over the past decade, Richardson said. Maricopa Community Colleges has found partners for its programs.

“Maricopa Community Colleges has collaborated with Amazon Web Services and others to offer certificates in blockchain and cloud computing, Cisco CCNA and CCNP certification,” he said.

The region also has programs such as the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range, a nonprofit in Surprise that trains volunteers to detect and defend against attacks.

The Arizona Department of Education is evaluating broadband access after seeing absences of coverage were detrimental to students during remote schooling.

“We're building a program, by which we will be engaging with the 700-plus local education agencies, and really looking to assess gaps, whether it's broadband or connectivity to the homes, as well as what's actually physically in the classroom,” Richardson said. “And so back to cybersecurity, we're going to need to secure all that as well, so we're really looking for the unique partners.”

Improved infrastructure, such as broadband, can play a pivotal role in the fight against online attackers. Chan said there needs to be private and public collaboration in modern infrastructure, broadband access and workforce development to train students and upskill existing workers.

“At the end of the day, cybersecurity and prevention is all in the defense. Defense is a big chunk of the battle won,” he said. “Cybersecurity spent across not just the technology that we are implementing, but in the people, in the processes that we need to make sure that it’s robust to be able to support that. That education piece has become so ingrained in our culture that we are seeing that shift.”

Meet our panelists: