Co-authored by Rebeca De La Vega, LatAm Cisco Networking Academy Corporate Social Responsibility Manager

The world is changing fast. COVID-19 has brought an enormous, sudden shift in the way we work and live. Many people are now dependent on the Internet to make a living, and for a large portion of their education, entertainment, health care, and even social lives. Without solid cybersecurity practices in place, we are exposing ourselves and the organizations we work for and interact with to tremendous risk.

The Cost of an Increased Attack Surface

This shift to tele-everything presents an expanded attack surface. Before COVID hit, the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) had already created a vast new area for potential attacks. By connecting everything – our risk increases. Connecting more people to the Internet during the pandemic has exponentially increased that risk. With more people working remotely than ever before, it is critical that we acknowledge the evolving risk and find solutions that allow them to securely work anywhere, on any device, anytime.

Financially motivated cyber-attacks were already increasing before the pandemic and shift to remote work. The 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risks Report ranked financially motivated cyber-attacks among the top five global risks in the world. And ransomware damage costs are predicted to grow more than 57 times between 2015 and 2021, hitting $6 trillion annually by 2021 with an average cost of $3.92 million per breach. To complicate matters, many individuals are now using the Internet much more than they did before the pandemic. Because of this, organizations have had to adapt their security program to ensure business continuity as well as a new robust remote working strategy (read more in the blog: Investing in Your Cybersecurity Program in Extraordinary Times).

Filling the Cybersecurity Skills Gap

So, what can we do to help protect ourselves and our data? The bottom line is we need to change the way we think about security, along with the need for more cybersecurity experts to prevent and combat these attacks, but there is a dire shortage of IT professionals with these critical skills. A 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study predicts that the global cybersecurity workforce shortage will reach more than 1.8 million unfilled positions by 2022. And in Latin America we face the second highest cybersecurity workforce gap in the world right now, with 600,000 unfilled jobs. The demand for professionals trained in information communication technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean exceeds the available supply by more than 30 percent.

A 2019 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study tells us that the global cybersecurity workforce needs to grow by 145% to meet the demands for skilled cybersecurity talent.

So what can we do?

Cisco Networking Academy is well-positioned to create cybersecurity experts to fill that gap – and help regular citizens gain the basic knowledge they need to protect themselves and the organizations they work for.

Creating a New Generation of Problem Solvers

For the last 23 years, Cisco Networking Academy has partnered with leading educational institutions around the world to prepare more than 11 million students from all backgrounds and experiences for IT careers. We are creating a new generation of problem solvers who will strengthen the digital economy. In Latin America, since the program’s inception, the Networking Academy has trained nearly 3 million people, 31% of those students are female.

Networking Academy’s best-in-class curriculum offers a wide variety of learning portfolios, including basic courses to help the public understand about potential vulnerabilities that could affect their daily life and business. For those who wish to explore a passion for cybersecurity, or to develop the skills for a career in cybersecurity, there are foundational and professional level courses that range from recognizing and understanding concepts and challenges of the ever-changing digital economy to evaluating security vulnerabilities, to ethics and laws. Completion of the Intro to Cybersecurity and Cybersecurity Essentials courses prepares students for one of three different advanced pathways: a CyberOps Associate certification, or higher-level courses in either IoT Security or Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Security.

Sharing Cybersecurity Knowledge Far and Wide

Gustavo Salazar started his CCNA preparation from Cisco Networking Academy in Argentina in 2005 when he was just 18 years old. He went on to earn his CCNA, CCNA Security, CCDA, CCDP, CCNP Enterprise, Cisco IOS Security Specialist, Cisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Design, and Cyber Ops certifications, along with a doctorate in Computer Science. Inspired by his early instructors, Salazar decided to become a Networking Academy instructor himself.

As an instructor and an instructor of instructors, Salazar is expanding his cybersecurity knowledge throughout his home country of Ecuador, helping hundreds of people gain valuable IT skills. A desire to share knowledge far and wide inspires Salazar to post new information about communications and cybersecurity through webinars, webcasts, blogs, and social networks. Salazar is changing lives by sharing this knowledge. Not only is he helping to close that skills gap a little bit more every day, he is also instilling values like honesty, empathy, responsibility, hard work, and teamwork – all of which are especially important when covering topics like ethical hacking.

Good news! The outcomes for Latin American Cisco Networking Academy graduates show that the program is indeed closing the skills gap. A full 96% of students in Latin America who took CCNA or higher-level courses obtained a job or educational opportunity. 78% of students in Latin America who completed CCNA 4, CCNP, or higher obtained a job opportunity such as a promotion, increased responsibilities, higher salary, or a new job. And 54% got a new job.

Expanding Our Reach to Train More Cybersecurity Experts

Cisco continues to fund new collaborations to expand our mission to empower all people with career possibilities. A recent agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS) will expand Networking Academy’s reach to help 100,000 individuals learn basic cybersecurity skills. Networking Academy Learn-A-Thons throughout Latin America introduce thousands of students to exploratory cybersecurity courses. Students who complete the course earn digital badges that certify their skills, a growing requirement from employers. And, as part of its Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program, Cisco is investing in an initiative in Brazil that will boost skills development and digital transformation, including a strong cybersecurity component. Through this initiative, Cisco Networking Academy will launch a cyber education program that will impact many young Brazilians and develop new talent to meet the growing demand for professionals in this country.

The threat landscape may be changing quickly, but with public-private collaborations like Cisco Networking Academy, and passionate instructors like Gustavo Salazar, we can train many more people to fight back.

Learn more about Cisco Networking Academy.


Jordi Botifoll

No Longer with Cisco