Pop Culture. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

Pop Culture Is Cybersecurity’s Best Recruiter

How to attract leading women and men to a field that desperately needs them

Steve Morgan, Editor-in-Chief

Sausalito, Calif. – Apr. 13, 2022

Step aside headhunters. Hollywood is using its movies as a casting call for roles in cybersecurity.

Our new book, “Hacker’s Movie Guide, 2022-2023 Edition: The Complete List of Hacker and Cybersecurity Movies,” is effectively a help-wanted sign for the 3.5 million unfilled jobs in our industry.

“Movies that feature ethical hackers fighting back against evil and wrong-doers can engage, entertain, and recruit tomorrow’s talent,” says former White House CIO Theresa Payton.

“These movies are vital to our recruiting efforts” adds Payton, who starred in the former CBS TV series “Hunted” and credits “WarGames” for convincing her that computers would be a major part of her future.

The world’s future cyber fighters are high school and college students, and we need a compelling message to recruit them to a field that desperately needs them.

Actions speak louder than words when it comes to capturing the imagination of young people.

“For me as a young woman seeing a character of a teenager hacker girl in a movie changed the course of my life,” says Keren Elazari, whose TED talk about hackers has been viewed by millions, translated to 30 languages, and is one of the most watched talks on TED.com on the topic of cybersecurity.

“The movie ‘Hackers’ (1995) is the reason I am who I am today,” adds Elazari, a well-known security analyst and author based in Tel Aviv, Israel. “Seeing the young hacker Acid Burn, alongside her diverse crew of subversive hacker heroes, really captured my imagination. It was the first time I saw kids on screen who were geeking out about the same things as I was — and they were the coolest, they had this incredible fashion, music and lifestyle that I completely resonated with.”

Pop culture has been recruiting tech workers for decades, it’s just that HR managers and recruiters are largely unaware of how much so. Some of today’s top security leaders and entrepreneurs told us they found their calling after watching a movie.

“When I watched the movie ‘Hackers’ back in 1995, I had just graduated high school and began my journey to obtain my bachelor’s of computer science at Old Dominion University,” says Laura Deaner, chief information security officer at Northwestern Mutual. “Acid Burn inspired me so much that I decided I wanted to be a hacker too. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Ori Eisen, founder and CEO at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Trusona, a pioneer in passwordless identity authentication, says the movie “WarGames” has been “a guiding light in my choice of work and professional path.”

“WarGames” was also the movie for Larry Whiteside, Jr., co-founder and president at Cyversity. “Even though I was not into computers or even knew what they were, it was the first movie to get me interested and thinking about them. Then once I got access to one, that movie made me think about all the possibilities of what I could do with one.” Now Whiteside and his organization is on a mission to bring more women and underrepresented minorities to the cybersecurity industry.

It’s hard to know just how many people “WarGames” impacted. Consider Sandra Toms, an SVP with Mandiant who was previously VP and architect at RSA Conference, which she grew into the world’s largest cybersecurity industry event that draws around 50,000 attendees annually. “WarGames” was the movie that inspired her to learn more about cybersecurity.

Back to the future, excuse the pun, but that’s where we need to go in order to step up our recruiting game.

“The rising field of cybersecurity is causing disruption in many areas of everyday life, such as in work, school, and entertainment,” says Connor Morgan, co-author of “Hacker’s Movie Guide,” who came up with the idea for our research on the history of hacking which ultimately led to the book.

“As the risk in cybersecurity rises, the need for awareness and training rises, more schools will integrate cyber or cyber-related fields into the curriculum,” notes Morgan, who took a cybersecurity class (accredited by Syracuse University) several years ago when he was a senior at Northport High School on Long Island.

To help engage more people in his demographic, Morgan, now 21, dove deep into Hollywood and then launched himself into cyberspace to compile the hundreds of movies in the “Hacker’s Movie Guide.”

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, who wrote the Foreword to our new book, found the answer to “What did I want to be in life?” from pop culture. “My inspiration came from books and TV shows and movies and other young electronic kids,” writes Woz. “Sci-fi and space adventure stories grabbed my full attention.”

Not to be too hard on recruiters, some of them do get it. “What an amazing list (in the “Hacker’s Movie Guide”)!” says Karla Reffold, a cybersecurity industry recruiter and speaker based in Washington, D.C. “My favorite is simply ‘Ramsey?’ from ‘Fast and Furious 7.’ The team is about to rescue the hacker Ramsey from a different group. As Brian O’Connor pulls the bag off that has been covering her head, we see it’s a girl. I remember being surprised, and so pleased to see a female hacker in a film that it stuck with me and gave me hope for the direction of our industry.”

Of course, the rest of our team at Cybercrime Magazine gets it. “I watched ‘The Matrix’ several times growing up and what really drew me in as a girl was Trinity — I’d never seen a strong, badass female character like that,” says Hillarie McClure, our multimedia director. “Her character is intelligent, has the respect of her crew, and knows how to keep cool in difficult situations. I feel confident I’m not alone in being inspired by Trinity — I’d wager a bet that she’s influenced a whole bunch of female cybercrime fighters out there!”

Now, do you get it?

Steve Morgan is founder and Editor-in-Chief at Cybersecurity Ventures.

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