Google is reportedly seeking out Australia's best and brightest hackers as part of its latest hiring raid. The firm wants to fill a number of cybersecurity positions in Australia, which the company considers to be a good place to hire security specialists, given the wide ranging courses that Australian universities offer to students.
However, the tech giant's move may likely exacerbate the already widening IT skills shortage prevalent in various Australian government agencies.
Google security expert Parisa Tabriz told ABC Australia, "I think finding the right people who have the skills of someone who can hack into a system but ultimately want to make it more secure and not use those skills for bad and are willing to also work in a big software company — it's hard to find that intersection of good people."
Tabriz, who serves as the head of security for Google Chrome and has worked with the tech giant since 2007, added, "Sydney's actually been a really good recruiting spot for some security people because there's good universities that really help train cyber security professionals."
Government competing with private firms on salaries compared to 'fighting gravity'
It is a common problem for governments across the globe, when attempting to attract people for jobs, to fall short of being able to provide the kind of salaries and perks that private firms serve up to prospective employees. The Australian government is no different in this matter.
"If we try to compete on salaries it's like fighting ageing and gravity — we're not going to win," said Michael Scott, the assistant secretary for cybersecurity at one of Australia's leading spy agencies, the Australian Signals Directorate.
"I think for a long time government has looked at this problem by saying we just can't compete financially — well we probably can't," he added. "But we can compete in terms of job satisfaction, the phenomenal access to information and technology that some Federal Government agencies have and it's not as binary as being you work for the Commonwealth or you work for the private sector."
Scott also explained that one of the other major issues with recruiting skilled cybersecurity personnel is the time consuming process required to grant prospective employees with top secret clearance.
"The demand for specialists with those skills is so great, many of them aren't prepared to wait to get a security clearance," Scott said. "So having a space where they can perform work at a lower level of classification is going to help with our task of recruiting."
However, despite the various specialised courses offered by Australian universities, not many appear to be interested in taking up the courses.
"We don't have enough students, that's the real problem," said Richard Buckland from the University of New South Wales."We're training good ones, but we just don't have enough. There's a big demand and not much supply."
According to Buckland, although there is no easy way to quickly solve the skills shortage issue, one way by which to attract more students into enrolling in courses is to radically change the way the courses are taught.
"We know what a good cyber security professional looks like, but it's still new, it's still disputed how to actually go about creating them," he said. "We need someone who's a rascal, who's cheeky, who's disrespectful and doesn't really obey authority. Most of our teaching institutions are based around authority and respect and perhaps not to questioning, so there is a challenge to produce them in a formal academic environment."