For corporations and governments across the globe, cyber-attacks are now far more than an ethereal threat. In recent years, high-profile attacks from Shamoon to WannaCry have dealt a reality check to the world—a harsh reminder that no organization is too mighty to suffer the effects of a digital blow. For the Middle East, the evolving threat is of particular concern with several countries boasting some of the highest internet usage rates globally and ambitious smart city ventures with a digital core. If the need to combat malicious cyber activity weren’t already pressing enough, these smart ambitions increase the urgency even further for the region and raise a question that is of relevance not only to the Middle East but worldwide: where is the cybersecurity talent that will keep the growing threat at bay?
Herein lies the issue; while there have been many successful advancements in cybersecurity technologies in recent years, the same positive trend is absent when it comes to cybersecurity talent. The severity of the shortage is a global phenomenon, with a deficit of 1.8 million cybersecurity workers estimated by 2022.2 In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) specifically, the shortage is expected to reach 400,000 by 2019 3—but the region has an advantage.
Millennials—people born between 1982 and 2000—can be a solution to the problem and fortunately for the Middle East, it has young populations in abundance. For example, nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s local labor force is comprised of Saudi nationals under the age of 35. 4 These figures are also very prominent in other MENA countries, such as Jordan and Egypt, where around 70% of the population is under 30 years of age.
Here’s why it matters: not only are millennials expected to account for three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025, but they were also born into the Internet age. For many at the younger end of the scale, life before smartphones and social media is the stuff of history books—and nowhere is this truer than the Middle East. Across the region, internet penetration rates are amongst the top five percent globally, while on the mobile front, there were 365 million unique subscribers in MENA by mid-2017, accounting for 63% of the region’s population.5
So, with a deep pool of tech-savvy talent at its fingertips, the Middle East must now strive to attract, train, and retain this invaluable workforce. The task may seem as formidable as the cyber threats that loom on the horizon, but with a structured approach, it is achievable. Here’s how the region’s government, industry, and academic stakeholders can play their part.