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Addressing Burnout in the Cybersecurity Workforce

The CDC’s reorganization is paving the way for a more supported and resilient cyber workforce.

The relatively young cybersecurity industry is experiencing a global talent shortage, creating an atmosphere of stress and burnout among staff. 

Joseph Lewis, chief information security officer (CISO) and director of the cybersecurity program office for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drew attention to the growing issue at Wednesday’s AFCEA Bethesda Chapter Health IT Summit 2024 discussion. 

According to a Cyberseek report, the United States currently has more than 570,000 cybersecurity job openings. 

“I’m actually conducting research for a Ph.D. on this exact topic,” Lewis shared. While there is extensive research on stress and burnout in other industries such as health care or education, cybersecurity is often overlooked because it is still misunderstood by many. 

"We certainly have a substantive problem,” he continued. “Our roles as cybersecurity leaders are to enable our staff to function and to operate in this complex and stress-inducing environments, and that’s challenging.” 

As the CDC undergoes reorganization, the focus is on training and skill management. Through a process of polling leadership and identifying emerging technologies, Lewis says, the team is learning of the requirements necessary to leap forward.  

Providing group training opportunities to proactively upskill the workforce can only prove successful, according to the CISO. 

“I think cybersecurity is a team sport and everybody needs to understand their role,” he stated.  

Consequently, keeping up with emerging technology becomes increasingly difficult during a staffing shortage. 

“With new technologies, there’s a risk associated with doing nothing, and there’s a risk associated with doing something,” Lewis said. While the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and many other buzzworthy innovations remains commonly unknown, the risk of trial is worth the potential outcome.

An AI-enabled game changer has been developed for the foodborne illness contact tracing mechanism. “They do that through manual reviews of receipts that somebody sent to the store,” he shared. “Hundreds of hours of personnel combing through scenes trying to figure out what the abbreviations mean and then how do we backtrack to where it was supplied to that vendor.” 

AI models could gather that data and help save hundreds of hours of personnel time. “That’s why it’s okay for us to accept the risk,” Lewis said, as long as the process is done holistically and with public health in mind.