By Raza Nowrozy
In a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that about one in 270 people worldwide has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also reported that worldwide, around 70 million people have a diagnosis of autism, but the focal point of attention is that according to expert estimates, about 70 to 90 percent of these autistic individuals are unemployed or underemployed.
Besides having challenges, individuals on the spectrum may also possess many positive traits such as exceptional long-term memory, logical thinking, being precise and detail orientated, schedule, routine and rule oriented, perfectionism, unique problem-solving abilities and have a natural talent for computer technology such as cybersecurity. Individuals on the spectrum have been noted by the National Autistic Society as being methodological and details orientated which makes them well suited for business; especially cybersecurity. This is because individuals on the autism spectrum may be able to observe beyond the distinctive “noise” which hides cyber attacks. They may also possess an exceptional aptitude to pick out the unseen measures and signs of an attack.
The damage caused by cyberattacks/attackers is estimated to be two trillion dollars by 2021-2022. However, the cybersecurity field is reported to have a shortage of workers, with unfilled positions in cybersecurity worldwide.
Many organizations have realized the benefit of hiring talented people who can think or see like attackers. It is estimated that about 75% of cognitively-able autistic individuals exhibit cognitive strengths that are analytical, systematic and have aptitudes and interests which make them well suited to careers like cybersecurity. Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla are the best examples of autistic individuals who are known for their spectacular contributions in the field of technology.
Specialists say that the field of cybersecurity is constantly changing and is moving fast therefore it requires some “outside the box”, robust problem-solving skills and thinking. If autistic individuals are given the opportunity to learn and work with cybersecurity, extraordinary results can be produced.
The recent skills gap in cybersecurity has the potential to be filled by considering talented individuals on the spectrum, giving them the opportunity to learn and work in cybersecurity. Managerial level cyber security professionals must find talent, including the rare talents of individuals on the autism spectrum. They should also inculcate in their teams the appropriate communication skills, attitudes, and expectations for team members who are on the spectrum to complement their technical skills. The unique skill sets that autistic employees can bring to the team are invaluable in the everlasting battle between the attackers and defenders and should be something we are all looking to incorporate into critical teams.
Indeed, some state-of-the-art organisations have already started hiring people on the autism spectrum as pilot programs, so as to fill various sophisticated technology-based jobs and positions.
But still, there is a need to generate awareness among the autistic people and their supporters that cybersecurity careers could be a pathway to them becoming independent, successful individuals. Educational institutions should also launch scholarship programs for autistic individuals specifically for the computer technology and computer security domain that create pathways to careers like cybersecurity.