JAY, Maine — October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, dedicated to bringing attention to the importance of staying safe and secure online. A large part of that effort is made possible through the cybersecurity workforce, but those involved in the field say there's a big need to fill positions, as the world becomes increasingly digital.
Danielle Welch is one of those essential workers, based in the small, rural community of Jay. She works remotely as an IT analyst for the software company Tyler Technologies.
"I love it. I mean, I don't think I'd change anything," Welch said about her job.
Her career path hasn't been totally conventional, though. She started out working in physical security at a bank after getting her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and through co-workers, she began to discover the world of cybersecurity. She says in a lot of ways, it feels like everything "always (goes) back" to cybersecurity.
"People are changing how they commit crimes because of their return on investment," Welch explained. "Thirty years ago, they were probably more likely to do something that wasn't digital whereas now, that's probably one of the easiest ways, once they learn what they're doing."
Welch initially went back to Thomas College to earn her MBA, but then she switched gears, achieving her master's degree in cybersecurity in July of 2020. She remarked that while business classes were full, the cybersecurity program was quite small, with only a handful of people enrolled overall.
"I think it highlighted the fact that there's a definite need for other people to get an education or pursue work in the field of cybersecurity," Welch said.
Sen. Angus King (I-ME) is co-chair of the National Cyberspace Solarium Commission and says there are tens of thousands of openings for cybersecurity professionals nationwide. Both the government and private sector are at risk of attacks, which means no one is immune.
"The reality is these bad guys are coming after towns and cities in Maine, banking facilities in Maine, smaller businesses in Maine," King said, speaking on the local level, noting 85% of the cyberspace criminals targets are in the private sector.
"We have to think of conflict in a different way. We historically think of war as army versus army, or navy versus navy," King encouraged, expressing he believes the "next 9/11" will be cyber.
King says the primary threats our country faces are gangs in Russia doing ransomware attacks and criminals in China stealing intellectual property and government information. He says North Korea, Iran, and non-state terrorist groups are also of concern.
King says he believes our country needs to act offensively, as well as defensively, by putting forward a policy that states cyber attacks will not be tolerated.