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Autism: Gifted Traits for a Cybersecurity Workforce

By Raza Nowrozy

Among technologists / hackers and those who have the skills to develop and spread malware, are traits which are over-represented in the autistic community (Ledingham and Mills 2015). In developing a workforce that has the skills to combat such malware, autistic individuals possess the personal traits which may make them great security professionals and essential cyber security assets for many organisations. Payne et al., (2019) found increased incidence of cyber-dependent crime was strongly correlated with the presence of “autistic-like traits” and this relationship was mediated by advanced digital skills. According to their findings, if a workforce with either the skill set or inclination to overcome cyber-crimes is desired, individuals with autistic traits, who are technology savvy and have advanced digital skills, would be well suited.

Cyber-crime has been on the rise in recent years and there are many very public examples of ransom-ware attacks. New digital security laws make company directors personally liable in the case of a serious data breach of their company information. A 2014 survey from KPMG found 53% of UK companies would consider hiring people with a digital mindset to assist in dealing with cyber security issues (Muncaster 2021). Hiring Autistic people could be considered a dramatic step. However, anyone that has dealt directly with autistic individuals would be aware of the traits that some possess that could benefit a company’s cybersecurity activities.

There are clear benefits in hiring autistic individuals, due to the traits that some of them possess, and then having them undertake appropriate training. This could be a complimentary strategy to the recruitment of experienced hires, given the extreme shortage of skilled cybersecurity talent. However, Human Resources (HR) professionals often don’t understand the language and skill-set of a good cyber-security professional, which may be different to what they would normally look for in a potential candidate (Dawson and Thomson 2018). An autistic individual may not be an ideal candidate for many other professional roles, however, if working in a cyber-security environment, productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in neurodiverse engagement can result (Austin and Pisano, 2017).

The challenge with employing such individuals is that they may not fit well with the wider culture of the organization. For instance, police departments will commonly hire an individual based on their ability to fit within a tight knit group (Dawson and Thomson 2018), whereas one of the characteristics of Autism can be a lack of experience in understanding relationships and friendships and having difficulty forming strong bonds with others (Platos and Pisula 2016). This indicates that in order to access this cohort of untapped talent, Human Resources staff many need to be more open to the range of individuals that they will target, consider and accommodate through the talent acquisition process.

References

Ledingham, R, and R Mills. 2015. “A preliminary study of autism and cybercrime in the context of international law enforcement.” Advances in Autism 1: 1-10, https://doi.org/10.1108/AIA-05-2015-0003.

Payne, Katy-Louise, Ailsa Russell, Richard Mills, Katie Maras, Dheeraj Rai, and Mark Brosnan. 2019. “Is there a relationship between cyber-dependent crime, Autistic-like traits and Autism?” J. of Autism and Developmental Disorders 49: 4159-4169, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04119-5.

Muncaster, Phil. 2021. “Majority of firms would hire ex-cons as cyber security pros.” Info Security, https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/firms-would-hire-excons-as/.

Dawson, Jessica, and Robert Thomson. 2018. “The future of cybersecurity workforce: Going beyond tecchnical skills for succesful cyber performance.” Frontiers in Psychology 9 (744): https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffpsyg.2018.00744.

Platos, Mateusz, and Ewa Pisula. 2016. “Friendship understanding in males and females on the autism spectrum and their typically developing peers.” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 81 (101716): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2020.101716.

Austin, R. and Pisano, G., 2017. Neurodiversity Is a Competitive Advantage. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage> [Accessed 17 August 2021].

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