Calgary lacks cybersecurity experts to protect against ‘nefarious criminals’ as attacks climb

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Cybercrime is up in Calgary, leaving many business owners searching for someone to help them protect themselves against attacks. But for some, that may be hard to find. 

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business — a national organization that represents more than 9,000 businesses in Alberta alone — is hearing from business owners who are more worried than ever about cyberattacks, said Mandy D’Autremont, senior director of marketing partnerships. 

This comes as the Calgary police say cybercrimes have increased 174 per cent between 2017 and 2021, and has investigated 100 ransomware attacks since 2016 — though those are just the reported crimes.

Police estimate that only five to 10 per cent of all cybercrimes are reported to police. 

“Businesses are talking about it more. We’re getting more phone calls.… Business owners know it and they’re now looking to what they can do to protect themselves,” D’Autremont said.

Mandy D’Autremont, senior director of marketing partnerships at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says business owners are more worried than ever about cyber attacks. (Submitted by Mandy D’Autremont)

Now more than ever, as people return to work, small- and mid-sized businesses are looking for people to help with their cybersecurity needs, said Calvin Engen, chief technology officer at F12.net, which offers cybersecurity services and training, and has offices in Calgary and Edmonton. 

“Businesses are wanting to do more business, and through that acceleration, they’re becoming more of a target. And certainly the nefarious criminals out there that are looking to make their own money haven’t stopped and have accelerated in many aspects,” he said. 

He said there’s a huge demand for cybersecurity services in Alberta and across Canada, and an equally big demand for the professionals to do it. Engen said his company tries to build the connections with colleges to scoop grads fresh out of cybersecurity programs. 

Calvin Engen is the chief technology officer at F12.net. He says the company is looking at hiring third parties to keep up with cybersecurity demand. (Submitted by Calvin Engen)

“Cybersecurity skill is lacking. There’s just simply not enough people that are in this field. And those that do move into the field are quickly snatched up by a multitude of different companies that are expanding,” he said. 

“This is the hottest aspect of IT right now and probably for the wrong reason, simply because there’s so much cybercrime out there.” 

Engen said this year is so busy that they’ve had to consider working with third parties in order to keep up with demand. 

“We’re able to bridge the gap for our clients. But ultimately, what we need to do from a Canadian or even a provincial perspective is to incentivize far more students to take up that aspect of cybersecurity training so that we can have that rate in Alberta and in Canada,” he said. 

‘We just don’t have the people’

John Zabiuk, chair at the cybersecurity program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, says he is in regular contact with industry members and government officials, and says they are constantly looking for cybersecurity professionals. 

He said he’s seeing a shortage in Alberta, but it’s a national and even global problem, with millions of vacancies worldwide. 

Zabiuk said a lack of professionals and people registering for cybersecurity programs is an “interesting conundrum,” given the positions are typically well-paid and there are a large number of vacancies.

“We see a number of increases in the types and the magnitude of cybersecurity attacks these days. They are only increasing, and we just don’t have the people able to backfill the positions required to meet the demand of countering those cyberattacks,” he said. 

He sees students get a basic IT education “and that leaves the whole area of cybersecurity untapped in terms of people getting into that profession.” 

Zabiuk said people and companies are just beginning to understand the “misunderstood” sector more, but he hopes there will be more awareness about cybersecurity in the future, and more efforts to “get the word out there.” 

“We all hear about the attacks, but we don’t see what actually happens in the background. And it’s the things that are happening in the background that don’t get advertised to people [so] they don’t know what’s actually happening,” he said. 



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