When cyber talent isn’t drawn to government, hackers run amok

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

In the nationwide talent grab for cybersecurity experts, new research shows federal agencies can’t compete with the perks offered by top-tier companies.

A study put out by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton concludes government in the past six years has done little to improve its overall strategy for attracting new talent into the cyber workforce.

“There is a nationwide shortage of highly qualified cybersecurity experts, and the federal government in particular has fallen behind in the race for this talent,” the report said.

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The report’s findings come days after a CNN report claimed Russian hackers infiltrated the White House’s unclassified networks in late 2014. Press Secretary Josh Earnest, while not quite confirming the report, said the White House will always be a target for cyber intruders.

By PPS’ count, at least 67,168 intrusions into federal systems took place in 2014 — a 1,121 percent rise from the incident rate in 2006. The report highlights an August 2014 case in which a DHS security clearance contractor, USIS, suffered a massive data breach that compromised senstive information for thousands of employees.

For agencies that haven’t been so publicly lambasted in the press, the study warns that cyber hacks are a matter of “when,” not “if,” and it behooves agencies to have a strategy to deal with the problem as it happens.

“There are two kinds of organizations: those that have been penetrated and are aware, and those that have been penetrated and are unaware,” said Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence and the National Security Agency.

Some agencies — like the NSA and FBI — are better equipped to deal with cyber threats, but the report finds that governmentwide cybersecurity still leaves much to be desired.

“We found that the government did not even know the size and competencies of the workforce let alone what would be needed in the future, and it had no plan to address this problem,” the report said.

To remedy the government’s cyber woes, the report doesn’t offer any quick fixes, but instead calls for reforms to the civil service system through performance- based pay and a new, modern job classification system.

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