Austin Moody wants to put his cybersecurity jobs skills to use in his home state of Michigan, collaborating with State Police officers to examine evidence and track down criminals. However, after finding that an unpaid internship was his sole ticket into the Michigan agency, the fresh graduate shelved the notion. 

 “I don’t know many people that can afford to take an unpaid internship, especially when it’s in such high demand in the private sector,” Moody said of fellow cybersecurity job seekers. “Unpaid internships in cyber aren’t a thing beyond the public sector.” 

Hiring and retaining people capable of fending against a never-ending stream of cyberattacks and less serious online threats is at the top of state technology leaders’ minds. There is a severe scarcity of those professionals and insufficient financial services jobs to compete with government rivals, global brands, and specialist cybersecurity organizations. 

 “People who are still in school are being told, ‘There’s a perfect opportunity in cybersecurity, excellent opportunities for high pay,'” said Drew Schmitt, a principal threat intelligence analyst with the cybersecurity firm GuidePoint Security. “And ultimately, these state and local governments just can’t keep up from a salary perspective with a lot of private organizations.” 

The troves of personal data within state agencies and computer networks critical to monitoring highways, maintaining electoral systems, and other crucial state functions attract cybercriminals regularly. The Washington state auditor, Illinois’ attorney general, Georgia’s Department of Public Safety jobs, and computer systems serving many of Louisiana’s state agencies have all been affected in 2019. 

Cities, like governments, are targeted, and they have far fewer resources to put in place cyber defenses. The federal government and individual states have launched training programs, competitions, and scholarships with the help of industry groups in the hopes of creating more cybersecurity professionals across the country. However, those tactics could take years to pay off. When their networks are taken down by ransomware and other intrusions, states have turned to private firms, civilian volunteers, and National Guard units for assistance. 

State leaders are wary of disclosing the number of vacancies for fear of enticing possible assailants. Since the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and Deloitte began surveying the group in 2014, inadequate cybersecurity staffing has consistently placed among the top worries of state security authorities. 

The issue isn’t just a problem for state administrations. Officials in the United States have made no secret of their difficulties in hiring and retaining cybersecurity experts. The Department of Homeland Security alone has 2,000 cybersecurity job vacancies, and the Biden administration promoted 300 new hires this summer. 

According to a survey conducted by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, a trade association, the average salary of a local or state government cyber employee in 2020 was $25,000 or lower than they pay in the federal government, the financial services industry, and IT services. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, information security analysts earned median pay of $103,590 in May 2020. Starting salaries for all employers are close to $90,000, according to Cyberseek. Homeland Security officials acknowledged that low pay was putting their department at a disadvantage in 2014. Still, it took until this year to draught a rule authorizing more excellent remuneration for cybersecurity posts — capped at $255,800, the vice president’s maximum salary. “The Department desperately needs a more flexible hiring process with incentives to secure talent in today’s highly competitive cyber skills market,” a portion of the rule due to take effect later this fall reads. 

Employers’ insistence on expensive and time-consuming certification requirements and background checks for cybersecurity roles, according to industry leaders, keeps jobs vacant and inhibits women and people of color from working in the field. 

State agencies are rarely there, said Beebe, who counsels students weighing multiple jobs offers long before graduation. “When it’s a hypercompetitive field, you can’t just submit a job posting and think it will get the same traction,” Beebe said. 

Source: U.S. News & World Report