Cyber Diamonds in the Hood  

It is Black History Month in the United States. This moment should be a time to remember how vital leadership and access for all people is to national posterity. This nation flourished with the free labor of immigrants, people escaping oppressive Kings, and yes – slaves. Black people, for the most part, represent the latter. There is no doubt that Black people have had a tremendous impact on a changing society. But surprisingly and unfortunately, some people are unaware that the minority infusion of economic and social empowerment goes well beyond sports and entertainment.

Black History Month is about highlighting the value and achievement that diversity enables. The month should be a time for identifying opportunities to raise all historically oppressed people. This idea gets lost in our national approach to cyber resilience, however. We still reward the best grades, and we limit access to people who do not appear to have a propensity for American success. This paradigm makes us all cyber vulnerable and ultimately contributes to a cyber workforce shortage. 

When it comes to national challenges like cybersecurity, the political establishment is distracted with shiny objects and news grabbing breach reports. The cry for a stronger security-aware society goes unheard. National leaders seek expensive technical solutions while excusing incompetence. A lack of leadership hides in the palm of a finger-point towards the technical person and limited resources. Ironically, the person pointing is the problem. Some of the right people aren’t in the room.

And what does this have to do with Black History Month? America holds natural resources yielding energy to power us into a secure future. These jewels hide in minority neighborhoods under all the institutionalized racism and cycles of poverty. The federal government and corporate leaders must begin to unearth the talent instead of burying it. The rusty foundation of exclusion is rapidly eroding in this new digital world. Case in point, the weakest people across the globe, can now strong-arm a mighty corporation or a once-dominant country.

We only need to look at our past to plot a compelling vision for the future. Black Americans and poor people have impacted every aspect of our health and wellness. The contributions to various wars and the society-changing inventions defined our nation. These achievements were instrumental to prosperity and American modernization across the most challenging time in our young history. 

The emerging digital threat and weak effort to tap into a proven well of talent identify a short American memory. So, let me remind you of a few contributions from Black Americans. Garrett Morgan represents a great example of the art of the possible. He was the son of slaves and went on to deliver several game-changing inventions. Mr. Morgan used his elementary school education and experience to improve the sewing machine and the gas mask. Another of Mr. Morgan’s significant designs was the improved traffic light.  Lewis Latimer is another Black Impact player also. He is the definition of what we now call American ingenuity. He drafted the patent application for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Mr. Latimer would later create the carbon filament light bulb. 

These achievements highlight the opportunity that our smartest planners are missing when it comes to the predictable surprise that is the cybersecurity challenge. Our ever-digitizing system is breeding a new brand of criminality. Additionally, we collectively face the looming risk of a 1.7-million-person cybersecurity shortage. Together, these forces present a serious challenge or potential opportunity. 

“If we are not careful, the approach of exclusion will doom us all. This scenario represents the greatest of all predictable surprises.”

The good news and opportunity brought about by the cybersecurity challenge is we now have a value proposition for investing in underserved communities. You see, as the need for cyber professionals grows in this internet society, so does the risks of a cultural catastrophe. This problem is synonymous with our inability to function should the power grid be debilitated, or, we can no longer find our way without Google Maps. Ironically, our poor leadership is like the blind leading us all into the darkness. This passage is no slight on the blind; they appear to see better than most of us.

The global cybersecurity skills gap provides an opportunity to not only employ people but to give them careers. You know, make them taxpayers. In return, it is a chance for the U.S. to tap a resource that has proven surprisingly resilient in our American past. 

Some leaders appear to lack the ability to look deeply at the problem, develop requirements, and implement a viable solution. other leaders just don’t want to work that hard. But these cybersecurity workforce challenges are not going to excuse them. The fit-all national programming that eliminates the bottom level performers will prove self-defeating. 

In these times of lost records, stolen military secrets, and cloned identities, we had better target underserved communities as partners. These kids have always shown the ability to punch above their weight. The fact is some of these children with the low SAT scores fall below the line because s/he attended a sub-par school in a dismal school district. We might need to work just a little harder for him or her and assist them in catching up. The cryptographic pattern these kids might one day identify could save the nation. These kids have seen things none of us will ever see. Our excellent educations potentially blind us to solutions sitting right in front of our eyes.

Unfortunately, the programming to produce the required analytical and management cybersecurity workforce is failing without signs of course correction. We are missing the diamonds right before our eyes, seeing the resource as dirty like a hard-to-mine piece of coal. Consequently, we are missing out on opportunities to unearth the less intuitive breakthrough technologies. Worse, we may be on autopilot and headed towards an inevitable and undesired future.  

To create digital continuity demands a whole of community approach. This strategy will help us better protect systems underpinning the lives we now enjoy. We can no longer minimize any human in this country — their access to education and path to technology is not an option. 

But how could it be that we are not training all young minds to see the world through a different lens? All hands-on deck, right? 

This is not rocket science. Our cyber future is as predictable as the next hurricane or tornado. We don’t know when or where natural disasters will occur, but we know they will. We are more resilient because we take a whole of community approach to training, preparedness, and recovery to survive nature’s fury. When it came to Andrew, Maria, Hugo, or Katrina, everyone mattered. 

It is time we bring all people into this digital fight in much the same way we meet our battles with nature. To do this, however, we need to build their confidence, make training available, and for God-sake, show some integrity.

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