Forbes pulled the rug out from under cyber contractors this week with an op-ed speculating cyberwarfare will prove to be a financial disappointment. The article makes some convincing points, but many contractors are banking on author Loren Thompson of Lexington Institute on being wrong.
The crux of the problem seems to be cyberwarfare is a highly competitive, underfunded, ever-evolving niche market with a short supply of experienced talent. Thompson sees that as a detriment to profit. An enterprising tech company might see it more as a challenge.
According to Thompson, the Defense Department expects to spend more than $9 billion on information assurance and security this year. Forbes points out the dollars up for grab amount to small change.
Granted, $9 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to a long-term weapons contract, but cybersecurity doesn’t require the enormous research, development, testing and delivery costs of a missile system. Keep it lean, keep it mean.
Thompson goes on to say contractors are finding cybersecurity challenges are constantly changing, making it difficult to invest in a sustainable, long-term franchise.
The market is new and evolving, requiring contractors be flexible and steps ahead of the next challenge. Long-term solutions won’t work in this industry. Success and profit are at the tip of a spear. In short, the best defense is a good offense.
Thompson got it right when he said there’s a distinct lack of talent available, and a disorganized, hodge-podged agency – interagency security network. But similar to the threats, the security framework is ever evolving.
Addressing the worker shortage, Booz Allen Hamilton and University of Maryland University College recently teamed up to offer online graduate degrees in cybersecurity.
Cyberwarfare may not ever be a cash cow, but an argument can be made that government contracts, responding to economic conditions and the changing nature of warfare, are slimming down permanently. Drones are replacing massive troop assaults, traditional battlegrounds are evolving into electronic battlegrounds. Government contractors will evolve to meet the emerging needs.