Singapore short of cybersecurity experts, data analysts


Not enough people want such jobs but Govt stepping up efforts to plug shortage: Yaacob

Singapore is short of cybersecurity experts, a gap made even more acute by the recent hacking of government websites.

But the Government is moving to plug the shortage by giving more scholarships for such degrees and diplomas, and getting tertiary institutions to include cybersecurity in the curriculum and have it as a specialist track in degree programmes.

But a tough-to-crack problem is that "young people do not find the job sexy", said Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

"A young IT (information technology) grad wants to go into banking, finance, sales and marketing. He doesn't want to be at the back end," he said at a media interview last week when he addressed recent infocomms-related incidents as well as Malay/Muslim issues.

To worsen matters, the proportion of IT security specialists is shrinking even as demand keeps growing. Latest official figures show Singapore had 1,200 IT security specialists last year. This is 0.8 per cent of the 144,300 infocomm workers, which is fewer than the 1,500 or 1 per cent a year earlier.

As a result, vacancies grew to 300 last year compared with 90 the previous year.

The shortage is set to grow as the local cybersecurity market, estimated at $63.7 billion in 2011, is expected to nearly double to about $120 billion by 2017. At the same time, global demand for these professionals is rising at around 11 per cent a year, research firm Frost & Sullivan said.

Its 2013 Global Information Security Workforce Study estimates the Asia-Pacific region has 981,000 such professionals and will need 98,000 more by next year.

In Singapore, the Government is trying to ease the shortage by giving more scholarships for infocomm security studies.

This year, 14 of the 70 scholarships from the Infocomm Development Authority are for such studies - 20 per cent compared with 15 per cent in 2009.

Dr Yaacob noted that banks cannot find enough Singaporeans to secure their systems against cyberthreats.

IT security firms like e-Cop said only one or two out of 10 job applicants are Singaporeans with the desired skills, despite these experts being paid 10 per cent to 20 per cent more than other infocomm professionals. As a result, e-Cop hires people with an infocomm background and trains them in cybersecurity, said its general manager Edwin Lim.

e-Cop manages the Government's Cyber Watch Centre, which monitors critical public-sector IT installations and looks out for threats such as hacking.

Dr Yaacob is confident a new five-year Cybersecurity Masterplan, launched in July before the spate of hacking incidents, will strengthen the resilience of Singapore's infocomm infrastructure against threats.

But awareness of cyberthreats is growing. Some, like polytechnic student Yu Peng Fei, have been prompted to study information security over, say, business informatics. "Finding software loopholes energises me," said the 17-year-old, who holds an IDA scholarship.

Dr Yaacob also cited data analytics as another area in demand. By 2017, this skill in crunching and making sense of data is expected to add $1 billion to the economy.

The Government wants to develop 2,500 such experts in five years.

As for the outages at two telcos this year, Dr Yaacob said a new audit framework will regularly review the resiliency of all telcos' mobile networks.

In January, M1's mobile network failed because of shoddy electrical works, while a fire in October damaged a SingTel Internet exchange.

But the minister cautioned that with an ageing and more complex telecommunications network, service disruptions may still happen from isolated hardware or software failure, or human error.