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Microsoft, community colleges to recruit 250,000 to cybersecurity workforce

Microsoft, community colleges to recruit 250,000 to cybersecurity workforce
Microsoft corporate building in Santa Clara, Calif., is shown. File Photo by Ken Wolter/UPI/Shutterstock

Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Microsoft announced Thursday a national campaign to partner with community colleges to recruit 250,000 people to the cybersecurity workforce by 2025.

Recruiting 250,000 people by 2025 will cut the cybersecurity workforce shortage in half, Microsoft President and Vice Chairman Brad Smith said in an official blog Thursday.

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Under the campaign, Microsoft will make curriculum available free of charge to all public community colleges nationwide, provide training for new and existing faculty at 150 of these colleges and provide scholarships and additional resources to 25,000 students.

The campaign is based on input received from 14 community colleges that Microsoft has partnered with since January in six states across the country, including colleges in Washington, Texas, North Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, according to the blog.

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Across the United States, there are 1,044 community colleges, serving 6.8 million credit students and another 5 million non-credit students in fall 2019, recent congressional testimony from American Association of Community Colleges President and CEO Walter G. Bumphus shows. About 58% of community college students are female; 13% are Black, 27% are Latino; 6% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 29% are first-generation college students.

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Currently, 17.6% of the cybersecurity workforce is female compared to 82.4% being male, a the company said.

Smith noted in the blog that the cybersecurity workforce is lacking diversity, which makes community colleges a good fit to partner with since they are diverse.

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"We need to build a cybersecurity workforce that is both larger and more diverse," Smith said in the blog. "Community colleges are uniquely situated to help the country do both."

The campaign and partnership come amid escalating cybersecurity attacks.

"Criminal ransomware groups have attacked schools, penetrated hospitals and shutdown a critical national pipeline," Smith said in the blog. "As we documented in the recent Microsoft Digital Defense Report, these attacks are growing and become more sophisticated."

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Earlier this year, Microsoft committed $20 billion over five years to improve cybersecurity solutions and protect customers, along with another $150 million to help the federal government upgrade cybersecurity protections and training, Smith also noted in the blog.

"But this work has also brought an additional and daunting realization: the country's cybersecurity challenges in part reflect a serious workforce shortage," he said. "Until we redress the cybersecurity workforce shortage, we will fall short in strengthening the country's cybersecurity protection."

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Cybersecurity jobs account for 464,200 open jobs in the United States, or 6% of all open jobs in the country, and such a job pays on average $105,800 per year, according to the blog.

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Recently, the Russia-linked hacker Nobelium behind the 2020 SolarWinds cyberattacks struck global information technology supply chains again, Tom Burt, who serves as corporate vice president of Microsoft's Customer Security and Trust team, warned Sunday in a blog.

The attack in network security software from SolarWinds last year breached at least nine U.S. federal agencies, along with dozens of companies, including Fortune 500 businesses.

Earlier this year, technology executives testified before Congress that the SolarWinds attack launched in March 2020 and discovered by cybersecurity firm Microsoft and Fire Eye (now known as Mandiant) in December, was unprecedented in scale and sophistication.

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The SolarWinds cyberattack also breached emails in dozens of U.S. attorneys' offices, the U.S. Department of Justice announced over the summer.

President Joe Biden's administration formally named the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service as the perpetrator of the SolarWinds cyberattack in April, and issued sanctions against Russia for the hack and for meddling in the 2020 election.

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In July, Biden signed a memo to increase national defenses against cyberattacks, citing separate recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline that led to gas shortages in May and cyberattack on JBS Foods in the United States.

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