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Can the homogenous security industry become heterogeneous?

Curtis Levinson

12-May-2015 Cyber security is not only a profession for white guys.

“The central point today is women and minorities are extremely underrepresented in the sciences,” said Curtis Levinson, who is a security consultant, and also the White House-appointed Cyber Security Advisor to NATO. “There seems to be a lack of creative strategies to reach these people early on, not just in high school, but also in primary school, to steer them away from arts and athletics and towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Meaning North America has a shortage of STEM graduates. Based on spread demographics, it’s not evenly balanced.” 

Technology is overwhelmingly male and homogenous looking, as opposed to a heterogeneous group of job seekers. [On any given day, all five most recent Securebuzz articles are usually accompanied by images of white male spokespeople.]

The goal is to attract more young people from female and minority groups to become the computer engineers, cyber security specialists, and technologists of tomorrow.

“It’s hard to create a balanced student body – I don’t know why,” Levinson said. “Are there gender and ethnic based issues? Are some people shied away from STEM at early ages? I do know that extra effort needs to be made, starting with primary school education. At least in my primary school education a million years ago, when Fred Flintstone sat up front and to the left of me, there was an ostracization of smart kids.”

Both of his daughters went to Richard Montgomery High School, which has schools within schools – International Baccalaureate program… honors placement program… in which smart students are isolated. The programs are competitive, and students highly competitive with each other.

Despite those efforts, Levinson admits he’s observing a phenomenon detrimental to our society as a whole, without concrete ideas how to fix it.

As a strategist he’s able to observe vulnerabilities and weakness, and come up with ways to combat those. Technological society spends a lot of time on technical solutions to cyber security problems; in terms of software, hardware, coding and analysis.

The human element is always the most neglected when it comes to security.

“We build the weapons first, and we worry about the troops later,” he said. “To me, that seems backwards. Weapons do not win wars; people do. We need to spend as much time on the soldiers in the cyber security war as we do on the weapons, because without the soldiers the weapons are useless.”

One of the goals of STEM education is to turn that around, and improve the human element with a diverse group of smart people. Lacking in technology is creative thought and action on how to get the face of technology to resemble the face of the population.

“If the problem is diverse, shouldn’t the solution be equally diverse?” Levinson asked. “We’re fighting the Chinese and the Russians and the Iranians and different ethnic factions and criminal organizations. Should not the solution be as diverse as the problems? How do you solve heterogeneous problem with a homogenous solution, in terms of humans?”

As trustee of a STEM university Levinson will soon give a commencement address to students from all over the world. At graduation students will meet for the first time, people they’ve known for, in some instances, years online.

“To be purely militaristic, the graduates I’m facing are the soldiers of tomorrow,” said Levinson. “Why are we not spending a more proportional amount on the troops?