Agencies must determine computer security teams in face of potential federal shutdown

With cybersecurity threats on the rise, essential IT staff would be much bigger than in 1995

With the WikiLeaks hacks and other threats to cybersecurity present, guarding against cyberattacks has become a significant part of governing -- especially because most government agencies have moved to online systems.

As a potential government shutdown comes closer, agencies must face new questions about defining “essential” computer personnel. Cyber threats weren’t as significant during the 1995 furlough as they are today, reports NextGov. The publication adds that agencies need to buck up and be organized.

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In late January, government officials, NATO and the European Union banded together in Brussels to formulate a plan to battle cyber bandits, according to Defense Systems.

Leaders there agreed that existing cybersecurity measures were incomplete and decided to fast-track a new plan for cyber incident response.

Meanwhile, observers are wondering whether the U.S. government has a plan to deal with cyberattacks in the case of a shutdown.

The lists of essential computer security personnel drawn up 15 years ago are irrelevant today, computer specialists told NextGov.

In 1995, the only agencies concerned about cybersecurity were entities such as the FBI and CIA. Today, before any potential government shutdown happens, a plan of essential IT personnel should be determined, the specialists add.

Agencies should be figuring out which systems will need daily surveillance and strategic defense, as well as evaluating the job descriptions of the people operating in those systems, former federal executives told NextGov.

Hord Tipton, a former Interior Department CIO, agrees. “If they haven’t done it, there’s going to be a mad scramble, and there’s going to be a hole in the system,” he told the site. 

All government departments are supposed to have contingency plans on deck that spell out essential systems and the employees associated with them, according to federal rules.

Meanwhile, some experts say determining which IT workers are essential depends more on the length of the shutdown.

Jeffrey Wheatman, a security and privacy analyst with the Gartner research group, tells NextGov that a shutdown lasting a couple of weeks “would require incident response personnel, network administrators and staff who monitor firewall logs for potential intrusions.”

If a shutdown lasted a month or longer, more employees would need to report, he said, adding: “New threats could emerge during that time frame, which demands people with strategy-oriented job functions to devise new lines of defense.”

Employees who are deemed “essential” are critical to national security.

Cyber warfare or holes in cybersecurity can threaten a nation’s infrastructure. In particular, the electric grid, the nation’s military assets, financial sector and telecommunications networks can be vulnerable in the face of an attack, reports Federal Computer Week.

About the Author

Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.


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