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Networking technology behemoth Cisco has announced a new multi-million dollar fund to tackle the growing shortage in the global cybersecurity talent pool.

The San Jose, Calif.-based tech giant said it will invest $10 million in a scholarship program to “increase the pool of available talent with critical cybersecurity proficiency,” according to a press release. As part of the two-year program, Cisco says it will provide training and mentoring to applicants who will leave the course with a certification that qualifies them for a security operations analyst role.

It’s not just cybersecurity scholarships Cisco is investing in, however — it’s increasingly taking younger, security-focused companies under its wing. In 2013, it snapped up security startup Sourcefire for $2.7 billion, while last year it acquired cloud-based security company OpenDNS for $635 million and network security company Lancope for $453 million.


Depending on which report you read, the cybersecurity industry will be short by around 1.5 million people by 2020, which is leading a number of tech companies to tackle the looming shortage head-on. Last month, Facebook open-sourced its Capture the Flag competition platform to teach developers about cybersecurity. One of the reasons the social networking giant cited for doing so was the anticipated demand for cybersecurity professionals in the coming years.


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While demand for human cybersecurity experts is expected to rise, some companies are exploring artificial intelligence (A.I.) alternatives to security problems. Last week, Cylance raised $100 million for a system that helps businesses protect themselves from zero-day attacks and other advanced security infiltrations by scanning networks for weaknesses and shutting them down if any are detected. Others in the A.I. space include Fortscale, which uses big data analytics and machine learning to identify malicious user behavior, as well as Jask and Darktrace, which are doing something similar.

But machines can only do so much, and the need for human experts is real.

“Cybersecurity is essential to digital success,” said Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, vice president and general manager of Cisco Services.

Many CEOs across the globe tell us their ability to innovate is hampered by their security concerns in the digital world. This creates a big future demand for skill sets that don’t exist at scale today. We developed this scholarship program to help jump-start the development of new talent. This includes the opportunity to help diversify the IT security industry by reaching people around the world, including veterans, women, and those early in their careers, to inspire them to enter the cybersecurity profession. This is just a start to help us educate, train, and re-skill the job force to become the security IT professionals needed to help address this vast talent shortage.

The scholarship awards will be available from August 1, 2016 until July 31, 2017 and constitute an instructor-led e-learning program that culminates in an exam. Cisco says the value of each award is the equivalent of “several thousand U.S. dollars.” Applicants must be at least 18 years old, be proficient in English, and have a basic competency in at least one of six specified areas, such as Linux or a relevant industry certification. Full details of the requirements can be found here.

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