A Cybersecurity Skills Performance Dashboard (CSPD): The Use of a Technical Gamification Simulation Platform (TGSP) to Address Cybersecurity Skills Gap in the UAE
BAZARGAN, FATMA AHMAD
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Cybersecurity capacity building has been one of the main pillars of the UAE cybersecurity strategy to shorten the cybersecurity skills gap in the UAE. There have been several capacity building initiatives introduced by the UAE government to upscale the hands-on technical skills amongst cybersecurity professionals in the UAE. However, there has not been any mechanism nor a platform in place to either measure the scale of the skills gap that currently exist and needs to be addressed nor any measurement tool to provide visibility into the effectiveness of the capacity building initiatives introduced. Furthermore, there have been a plethora of undergraduate cybersecurity academic degree programs taught in various recognized educational institutions across the UAE. However, the shortage of cybersecurity practitioners globally and locally has never been more acute. Hence, there is a crucial need to introduce a UAE nation-wide cybersecurity skills performance dashboard that shall provide the required visibility into the scale of the skills gap that currently exists, hands-on technical skills that is currently available, and those skills that need to be developed and trained. The Cybersecurity Skills Performance Dashboard (CSPD) shall provide the true measurement of the current existent skills gap shortage in the UAE to enable the concerned entities to introduce the needed capacity building initiatives to shorten the skills gap. In addition, there is a heightened need to introduce new ways of instructing cybersecurity academic program to upscale the hands-on technical cybersecurity skills amongst university undergraduate students and thus improve a variety of technical skills such as digital forensics, incident response, reverse engineering, cryptography, penetration testing, and many more. This research study aims to design and develop the Cybersecurity Skills Performance Dashboard (CSPD) as a measurement tool for capacity building of cybersecurity professionals. It records and provides a true assessment of the upscale of hands-on technical cybersecurity skills of cybersecurity professionals. This is fulfilled through the introduction of new ways to the current traditional academic teaching model through the use of the Technical Gamification Simulation Platform (TGSP) to shorten the cybersecurity skills gap problem in the United Arab Emirates. Integrating the TGSP within the fabric of the undergraduate cybersecurity academic programs will produce market-ready professionals to fill in the active cybersecurity job postings in the United Arab Emirates or globally. This study employs a qualitative grounded theory research design to understand and explore how the use of the technical gamification simulation platform will enhance the hands-on technical skills amongst undergraduate students. Purposeful sampling was used to mindfully select the sample for this research work from a pool of 3rd and 4th-year undergraduate students majoring in cybersecurity from various renowned universities across the United Arab Emirates. This research work that applied to the selected participants consisted of three phases: assess, train, and perform. The data was collected from all the three phases. The first phase, the assessment phase, was in the form of responses to one-on-one interview questions. The second phase, which was the training phase, was in the form of results collected from the cybersecurity skills performance dashboard that was designed and developed by the researcher. Finally, the performance phase involved results that were in the form of responses to the post-training survey questionnaire by the participants in the study. Analysis and findings indicated that the undergraduate students found the technical gamification simulation platform an invaluable tool to upscale their hands-on technical skills because it provided them with a simulated real-world environment whilst using real-world tools to complete the technical scenario in a structured manner. This research work is considered to be the first to be conducted in the United Arab Emirates that examined providing undergraduate students majoring in cybersecurity with access to the technical gamification simulation platform for a duration of 8-weeks. Also, it was able to draw invaluable information on the effectiveness of introducing the training platform alongside the academic curriculum to upscale the hands-on technical skills. Several research questions were tested as part of this research work within the U.A.E. context. Finally, this thesis delivers the design and development of the cybersecurity skills performance dashboard (CSPD) as a measurement tool for capacity building of cybersecurity professionals and a contribution to this research study. The CSPD captures and displays the scores of the students as they complete a given technical scenario or challenge in the technical gamification simulation platform. Hence, the dashboard provides a true assessment of the cybersecurity undergraduate’s technical hands-on skills. The CSPD provides the required means to various entities (i.e., government entities, private sector, business owners, etc.) to approach the cybersecurity professional based on the skills they most need through the use of CSPD. The beneficiaries of this dashboard include entities in the UAE and worldwide. In addition, the dashboard can be used as a reference by the U.A.E. cybersecurity policymakers to understand the cybersecurity skills that are widely available in the United Arab Emirates and the skills that further need to be trained and developed. Hence, being able to tailor the capacity building campaigns on factual data. Also, the dashboard can act as a nationwide cybersecurity skills performance database/repository in the United Arab Emirates to understand the current availability of cybersecurity professionals and talents. Although the dashboard in this research work is applied to the field of cybersecurity. However, it can be generalized and applied to any other field of expertise to gain invaluable insights into the skills gap.
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