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Program works to diversify cybersecurity industry

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Posted at 10:12 AM, Apr 22, 2022

As cybersecurity threats grow, so does the opportunity to get a job to fight back against them.

“The more we get into technology the bigger it gets," says Ida Byrd-Hill, founder of Automation Workz, an institute in Detroit that offers career training in the field.

Approximately 90% of data breaches are the result of human error, according to a study.

“Cybersecurity is not really 100% techie. I would say it’s more emotional and psychological than people think," Byrd-Hill said.

Many of her students live in cities across the country and take the 12-month cybersecurity course online.

Her mission is to create diversity in an industry that is more than 75% white men.

Separately, she believes the industry can benefit from embracing those who have had run-ins with the criminal justice system.

She has contracts with organizations like Detroit at Work, which helps those who are returning to the workforce after spending time in prison.

Byrd-Hill said part of the challenge is getting companies to embrace those who may not pass a traditional background check.

“Martha Stewart, she’s a returning citizen. There's all sorts of people who have a criminal or felony background, but they have viable skills and integrity and once they pay their debt to society, they deserve a shot," said Malia Salaam, a manager at the Reentry Career Center.

“You need more people who’re in that mindset, who think like a criminal to face off against a hacker because all a hacker is, is a criminal," Byrd-Hill said.

Lewis De Payne spent time on house arrest 20 years ago. He was charged in connection with an effort to hack a phone company's software.

“You know, I never really bothered with labels. It's a matter of defining your terms and nobody really likes to define their terms so everyone has a different meaning when you define the label. Hacker certainly fits," De Payne said about whether he considered himself a hacker at that point in his life.

He later went on to have a successful career in the tech industry.

“You need people who can think outside the box. You can read from a textbook, you can learn from a textbook, you can apply textbook examples in real life, but a security incident, especially one five to ten years from now, that's not going to be in any textbook," De Payne said.

The White House has urged companies to fill the estimated 600,000 empty cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. The Biden administration is concerned a gap in workers will make it easier for hackers.

Many cybersecurity jobs pay more than $100,000 a year.

“To go from $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 a year to $100,000 is a major lifestyle leap. It impacts your children, it impacts the people around you, it changes a community," Byrd-Hill said.