July 22, 2009

Lack Of Cyber Security Experts In Government

A private study on cyber security found that federal agencies are facing a severe shortage of computer specialists, even as a growing wave of coordinated cyberattacks against the government poses potential national security risks, The Associated Press reported.

It showed that the federal cyber force was lacking and even reported instances where no one is in charge of overall planning.

"Government agencies are on their own and sometimes working at cross purposes or in competition with one another," the study said.

The report, which was drafted by the partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton, comes after a series of cyberattacks in July that caused some U.S. and South Korean government and financial Web sites to shut down.

It said that the recruiting and retention of cyber workers was hampered by several factors including a cumbersome hiring process, the failure to devise government-wide certification standards, insufficient training and salaries, and a lack of an overall strategy for recruiting and retaining cyber workers.

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based advocacy group that works to improve government service, said agencies wouldn't win the cyber war if they don't win the war for talent.

"If we don't have a federal work force capable of meeting the cyber challenge, all of the cyber czars and organizational efforts will be for naught," he added.

The Obama administration has been struggling as of late to put together a more cohesive strategy to protect U.S. government and civilian computer networks.

While there are no official released cyber workforce numbers, there are currently more than 90,000 Pentagon personnel involved with cybersecurity, while the non-defense department civilian cybersecurity work force has been estimated at 35,000 to 45,000.

Intelligence community estimates are classified.

So far, the White House has been unable to fill its new cyber coordinator position, even though President Barack Obama has declared cybersecurity a top priority of his administration.

Once a federal cyber coordinator is chosen, the study recommends a new strategy to meet the government's work force needs, set job classifications, enhance training and lead a nationwide effort to promote technology skills, including through the use of scholarships.

Recent cyberattacks were able to breach a high-tech fighter jet program and the electrical grid "“- exposing the federal government's vulnerabilities -- although no classified material was compromised in those attacks.

Hackers knocked several U.S and South Korean government Web sites off line earlier this month in a widespread and unusually resilient computer breach.

However, it is difficult to draw a link between the work force shortages and the increased cyber threats against the government, according to Ron Sanders, chief human capital officer for the national intelligence director's office.

He suggests it is uncertain whether there is any cause and effect there and warned that the U.S. probably will have to live with the nearly constant attacks.

"But the intrusions have heightened awareness of the problem, forcing officials to focus on the hiring needs," he said.


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