The government-run Cyber Security Agency of Singapore's (CSA) plan to open its first academy will be just in time to prepare the city state for a surge in demand for these skills next year, according to experts.

The academy, due to be opened later this fiscal year, will train cybersecurity professionals and will focus on "targeted niche areas that go beyond what is normally available in the market”, a CSA spokesperson told People Management.

It will provide intermediate and advanced training to ‘cyber defenders’ in the government, including some selected parties in Singapore's Critical Information Infrastructure (CII), comprising 11 sectors: aviation, healthcare, land transport, maritime, media, security and emergency, water, banking and finance, government, energy and infocomm.

Cybersecurity is a global threat, so it is important to learn from global experts, said the spokesperson: "We are working with FireEye [a US-based cybersecurity firm] as a partner on the details of the advanced courses to be offered." The CSA will review subject areas on an ongoing basis, keeping programmes in tune with changing industry needs and skillsets. And in the long term, it will focus on offering training to a wider community beyond government and CII experts, the spokesperson said.

The academy is "timely and encouraging news" as Singapore prepares to pass a bill on cybersecurity in 2018, said Shinjika Shukla, manager, technology practice, Singapore at recruitment firm Michael Page.

The passage of this bill, which seeks to strengthen cybersecurity, will see the demand for industry experts rise even further. An "estimated 40 per cent of firms will strengthen their internal cybersecurity capabilities to avoid fines and future attacks" after the bill is passed, Shukla said.

However, the spike in demand is coming at a time when there is already a shortage of these skills in Singapore. "As has been widely reported, 80 per cent of firms in Singapore do not have robust cyber response plans in case of attacks," she said.

The government’s Infocomm Media Manpower Survey for 2016, published in June last year, found that "local demand for cybersecurity professionals stood at about 4,100, with about 400 positions left unfilled”. The survey also noted that demand for IT specialists, including cybersecurity and infocommunications research and development, was "expected to grow by about 33,400 in the next three years".

Did Singapore neglect to nurture a local talent pool of cybersecurity experts because of its status as a global business hub? "In Singapore, the IT sector has often been looked upon as a back-office business enabling function as opposed to a business partnering function," Shukla said. Most employers in the past have built their cybersecurity capabilities in their headquarters or in low-cost locations, leading to a shortage of such skilled talent in Singapore. Building a "strong local workforce to counter these [cyber] attacks will help Singapore ride the digital wave”, Shukla added.

It is important for the new academy to identify the range of skills needed, added Abhik Roychoudhury, professor of computer science at the National University of Singapore. "One area certainly is incident response and malware analysis. There are other aspects such as how to provide system resilience, and how to secure operations, which could be sector specific,” he said.

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