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Cybersecurity professionals now get respect. Attitudes toward cybersecurity roles are now overwhelmingly positive, according to a newly released study by (ISC)², which calls itself the world’s largest nonprofit association of certified cybersecurity professionals.

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The 2020 Cybersecurity Perception Study found that 71% of respondents, all of whom do not work in the industry, said they consider cybersecurity professionals to be smart and technically skilled, while 51% also described them as “the good guys fighting cybercrime.”

As National Cybersecurity Awareness Month approaches in October, the findings indicate a shift in popular opinion about cybersecurity professionals, who have traditionally been viewed through a negative lens as roadblocks to business efficiency, the (ISC)² study said. In fact, 69% of respondents said that cybersecurity seems like a good career path, just not one they see themselves pursuing.

The cybersecurity industry is made up of 2.8 million skilled professionals, but research indicates that there is a global shortage of 4.07 million, which requires a massive recruitment effort of new entrants to the field who may not have considered the career before, (ISC)² said. The study reveals that the obstacles to attracting these additional workers may be two-fold.

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First, 77% of respondents said cybersecurity was never offered as part of their formal educational curriculum at any point, making it difficult for most people to gain a solid understanding of what roles in the industry actually entail and how to pursue the career, according to (ISC)².

The second factor that may be limiting interest is a pervasive belief that such roles would require very advanced skills development that would require time and resources to achieve, the association said.

“What these results show us is that while it’s becoming even more highly-respected, the cybersecurity profession is still misunderstood by many, and that’s counterproductive to encouraging more people to pursue this rewarding career,” said Wesley Simpson, COO of (ISC)², in a statement. “The reality of the situation, and what we need to do a better job of publicizing, is that a truly effective cybersecurity workforce requires a broad range of professionals who bring different skillsets to their teams.”

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While technical skills are vital for many roles, Simpson said the cybersecurity field also needs individuals with varied backgrounds in areas including communications, risk management, legal, regulatory compliance, process development and more, to bring a well-rounded perspective to cyber defense.

Additional findings from the study include:

  • Conducted during a time of record unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the study found that job stability is now the most valued characteristic in a career (61% of respondents), followed by ones that offer a “flexible work environment” (57%) and only then, “earning potential” (56%).
  • In the absence of formal cybersecurity education, perceptions about the industry and the professionals in it are formed primarily through portrayals in TV shows and movies (37% of respondents) or by news coverage of security incidents (31%).
  • 61% of respondents said they believe they would either need to go back to school (26%), earn a certification (22%) or teach themselves new skills (13%) to pursue a career in cybersecurity. Some 32% of respondents said they believe too much technical knowledge or training would be required.
  • Generation Z (Zoomers) were the least likely demographic group to cast cybersecurity professionals in a positive light. Just 58% view cybersecurity professionals as smart and technically skilled, as opposed to 78% of Baby Boomers. And only 34% of Zoomers consider them the “good guys, fighting cybercrime,” as opposed to 60% of Boomers.

The online study of 2,500 survey respondents across the US and the UK was conducted in June.