The Neurodiverse Advantage: How neurodiversity can help solve the biggest cyber security challenges
In the cyber security industry, our knowledge and innovation stems from creativity and new ways of thinking. We are innovators who like to solve complex problems. Our passion is fueled by our desire to protect data, information and people. We know that staying ahead of adversaries requires the most cutting-edge thinking, the most adept problem solving skills and above all, diversity of thought.
To address some of the hardest issues in cyber security, you need a strong advantage. There are no simple solutions but Neurodiversity may hold one important key to the equation. Neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain including, but not limited to, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and dyslexia. Some highly recognizable people like Bill Gates, Whoopi Goldberg and Michael Jordan are neurodiverse. Increasingly, we are seeing military, business and the intelligence community calling upon neurodiverse individuals to solve some big problems.
In the constantly evolving threat landscape, we need out of the box thinking, pattern recognition, idea generation, problem solving and innovation – the hard-to-find skills that can exist within those who are neurodiverse. There is no doubt that understanding the depth and dimension of cognitive variations is important. A study that appeared in the Harvard Business Review showed that cognitively diverse teams were able to solve problems faster – and speed is one absolutely critical variable when it comes to threats against the loss of personal information and data (Harvard Business Review).
In cyber security, we are facing a severe and sobering reality – the fact that 3.5 million cyber security jobs could go unfilled worldwide by 2021 (Cybersecurity Jobs Report). Encouraging more and more people who are neurodiverse to explore cyber security as a career path is one way to help shore up that gap. How can that be achieved? By creating environments where neurodiverse individuals thrive.
- By understanding where biases might exist and working to eradicate those.
- By running cyber exercises with people that have different approaches to problem solving.
- By learning, listening and looking beyond a standard set of qualifications.
- By recognizing the advantage neurodiversity can bring to teams.
A strong team is built on a foundation of support, cohesion, creativity and efficiency. True teamwork means we come together to support individual talents, recognize where people excel and identify where they work best. We should welcome the visual processing skills and pattern recognition that people with dyslexia may have or rely on the strong memory or attention to detail some with Asperger’s syndrome have. We should bring forward the creative thoughts often recognized in those with ADHD to solve the greatest challenges. A successful cyber security team utilizes the combination of individual strengths and ways of thinking to work toward the common goal of protecting their company, customer and employee data. Recognizing and utilizing the collective brain power of all around us will lead to trailblazing ideas. At the end of the day, diversity – including neurodiversity – is an incredibly powerful advantage.
About the Author, Craig Froelich
Craig Froelich is chief information security officer for Bank of America. He leads a team of experts in 13 countries dedicated to protecting the money and information of the company’s 66 million consumer and small business clients, including 37 million online banking customers and 28 million mobile users.
The Global Information Security (GIS) team provides defenses for current and future threats within the company and partners closely with industry and government associations to keep the sector secure.
Bank of America’s information security team has been recognized as a leader in this space, having won the 2018 Information Security Team of the Year from SC Magazine in addition to a 2018 CSO50 Project Award and the 2017 Information Security Executive® Southeast Project of the Year.
Froelich has also received industry awards for his leadership. He has long supported programs that narrow the gender gap in technology, serving as an executive sponsor for Girls Who Code and participating in the company’s employee networks, and advocacy groups such as Women in Technology & Operations.
Froelich serves on the board of directors as chairman emeritus of the Financial Services‒Information Sharing and Analysis Center, as vice chair for the Financial Systemic Analysis & Resilience Center and chair of Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council. He also serves on the board of Sheltered Harbor and the executive committee of BITS, the technology policy division of the Bank Policy Institute.
Bank of America’s GIS team is also a group of inventors. The team has filed or been granted more than 500 cyber security patents. Since 2010, Froelich has filed for 11 patents and been granted six. The GIS team strives for innovation through a commitment to diversity of talent, recruiting women, military veterans, people of color and members of the LGBTQIA community.