Federal Government Lacks Experts To Address Cyber Security Threats

The federal government faces a shortage of cyber security experts. That’s according to an article published in FCW, a technology-focused publication. FCW interviewed federal officials regarding the government’s ability to effectively beef up its cyber security program and found a unsettling trend: the government needs more tech experts. In some cases, according to a Department of Defense official, the government hasn’t even figured out what to hire for:

“We don’t have all the capacity and the right sets of skills that we need to do all that’s required. In the department we are still struggling to fully define and empower the cyber workforce. It’s a big challenge, just to define the techniques.”

In July, a State Department official gave an estimate of the shortage to Reuters: “The numbers I’ve seen look like shortages in the 20,000s to 40,000s for years to come.”

Why is there a shortage? According to Cynthia Dion-Schwarz from the National Science Foundation, it’s a “pipeline” problem. In short, the government can’t find the “people with the right skills sets to just have the entry-level skills needed in order to make progress in cybersecurity,” Schwarz told FCW. Others, like John Arguila, a U.S. Naval Postgraduate School professor and cyber security expert, say it’s time to think outside the box when it comes to recruiting, telling the Guardian that “most of these sorts of guys can’t be vetted in the traditional way. We need a new institutional culture that allows us to reach out to them.”

The shortage is especially relevant now that the president is likely to sign an executive order on cyber security, putting, according to a copy of the report, “the Department of Homeland Security in charge of organizing an information-sharing network that rapidly distributes sanitized summaries of top-secret intelligence reports about known cyberthreats that identify a specific target.”

For months, federal officials and cyber security experts have been warning about this. In April, Janet Napolitano, the head of Homeland Security, said:

There is a lack of expertise and there are a lot of people clamoring for people who know the internet well…We need analysts. We need people who are engineers. We need people who are experienced in intelligence as it relates to the cyber-universe.”

It’s not just federal officials who have connected the shortage to national security; Enrique Salem, an executive at Symantec, a cyber security organization and software maker, told Reuters in June: “What I would tell you is it’s going to be a bigger issue from a national security perspective than people realize.”

Earlier this month, Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense, said cyber security was at a “pre-9/11 moment.”