America is in a cyber war, but the nation puts itself at a disadvantage by using almost exclusively men to fight, a government watchdog said Wednesday.
“We are absolutely in the middle of a cyber war,” House of Representatives Inspector General Theresa Grafenstine told a congressional briefing Wednesday. “Congress is under daily attack. It’s a new cold war.”
Cyber attackers include trouble-making teenagers, hacker-activists and enemy nation-states. As things presently stand, she said.
Data cited during the briefing demonstrated that America’s cyber-security workforce is dominated by men.
“If you think we’re going to win this war with only half our army – they’re going to eat our lunch!” Grafenstine said. “It’s like you’re going into battle with only half your brain power.”
African-Americans and Latinos make up less than 10 percent of the cyber workforce, according to the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals, who hosted the briefing, along with cyber think tank Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology and Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee.
Likewise, less than half of one percent of women major in computer science in college, though 74 percent show interest in middle school. These low numbers encourage minorities to feel they’re the “only one in the room,” according to ICMCP.
A spokesman said the workforce data was produced by the National Science Foundation and the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium.
Adding women and minorities to the cyber workforce is critical since the number of employees needed in the field is growing exponentially, according to ICMCP.
“We need to make this like a marketing campaign,” Grafenstine said. “Slap Cinderella with a laptop.”
She noted that the stereotypical student interested in information technology is the “weird kid” with the pocket protector in the back of the classroom “with mountain dew” and “hacking into things.”
“What little girl wants to do that?” Grafenstine said.
Grafenstine said she was one of the first batch of women hired in the Philadelphia audits office with the Department of Defense inspector general.
“They were all secretaries before that,” she said. Then, Grafenstine moved her focus to IT audits.
“If I thought women were underrepresented in the audit community, when I went to my first IT audit meeting – Oh my goodness!” she said. “It was like a sea of testosterone.”
This story originally incorrectly attributed a statement about “white men” to House Inspector General Theresa Grafenstine. She did not use that phrase and was focusing solely on the gender distribution of the cyber-security workforce.