Big Interview – Ned Baltagi


Security Buyer ME catches up with Ned Baltagi, Managing Director, Middle East, and Africa at SANS Institute 

It was announced earlier this week that SANS Institute will be hosting this year’s Summer Dunes training program in Saudi Arabia. Would you like to speak more about the training and why it is offered?  

About two years ago, we conducted research on how young people perceive cybersecurity. We wanted to understand which markets were mature and already focusing on educating youngsters on cybersecurity and noticed that the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE are far ahead when it comes to promoting cybersecurity as a career.  

In line with this, Saudi Arabia recently announced a National Cybersecurity Strategy to ensure future readiness with a digital-first strategy as part of the Kingdom’s efforts to establish a strong cybersecurity infrastructure. We at SANS support this vision and want to generate a positive impact on aspiring Saudi talent, elevating the careers of youngsters with interest in the field, as well as supporting and upskilling the existing cybersecurity workforce in the region. 

What can visitors expect to come away with from SANS Summer Dunes 2022?  

The courses offered at this year’s SANS Summer Dunes are FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis and FOR498: Battlefield Forensics & Data Acquisition.  

We believe that since our students work in the real world, their training should include real-world practice data. To effectively detect threats and prevent attacks, a cyber security practitioner or team must first know and understand what they are preventing. Through a series of hands-on laboratory exercises, FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis focuses on building the core components of digital forensics knowledge of Microsoft Windows operating systems. The course starts with intellectual property theft and corporate espionage case that was built over six months. Our instructor course development team uses incidents from their own investigations and experiences to create an incredibly rich and detailed scenario designed to immerse students in an actual investigation. 

FOR498, a digital forensic acquisition training course, provides the skills necessary to identify the many data storage mediums in use today and how to collect and preserve this data in a forensically sound manner. It covers digital acquisition from computers, portable devices, networks, and the cloud. Students will learn the art and science of identifying and starting to extract actionable intelligence from a hard drive in 90 minutes or less. 

SANS Summer Dunes will be an extremely rewarding experience, and within these two courses, students will know how to mitigate even the most complex cyberattacks with skills that can be implemented as soon as they complete the training. 

How important is it to develop today’s workforce? 

Highly important – a professional or a team responsible for cybersecurity within an organisation that does not keep learning and staying on top of current threats and attacks is sure to fall short of being able to protect their organisation. The current threat landscape is constantly evolving, and therefore, practitioners need to continuously learn how to counter modern-day attacks and threats, as well as be able to find the vulnerabilities and gaps within their own organisation’s defenses.  

It’s also increasingly crucial to ensure that it isn’t just the security teams and IT departments that know what to look out for online. Organisations need to ensure they are also training their entire staff on security awareness and teach them basic tricks and ploys cybercriminals use – this not only strengthens an organisation’s overall protection but ensures that their workforce is informed and proactive in the fact of digital threats. 

How is SANS working to bridge the gap in cybersecurity skills, at a time where talent is scarce in the Middle East? 

There’s a big uptick in people wanting to learn cybersecurity in the Middle East, especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. We offer various training courses and programmes for students at all levels, from adolescents to adults.  

However, with a shortage of trained personnel available on the job market, it’s challenging for organisations to find the right talent for the right jobs. Yet, there’s simultaneously an undiscovered and untapped pool of talent in the region – usually already employed within the organisations that are seeking them.  

Our SANS Immersion Academies or Assessments assist organisations by defining the talents they want to hire, ensuring that HR departments have the tools to identify the right talent, and then finding hidden talent in-house. We also help governments set up special programs to identify and train people who are unaware that they have a knack for cybersecurity. SANS works to support organisations in making use of existing resources by retraining and upskilling them. 

What important steps need to be taken to not only recruit and upskill talent, but also retain it within the region?  

To retain talent, an organisation needs to ensure that its working conditions are at the top of the industry. Provide your team members with opportunities to learn and develop their skills and knowledge about the cyber-field, and clearly outline what their development plan looks like.  

Make sure there are enough opportunities to engage the local cybersecurity community, where they can get together with like-minded individuals. They can do this at meet-ups, trade events, online, but also at Capture the Flag events, Hackathons, or training events such as the ones SANS provides. Here, recruiters can gain an understanding of the existing talent pool in the region based on interest in and interaction at these events.  

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