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How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security

Washington’s partisan political battles are stalling any efforts to improve the country’s cyber security defenses.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Visa 2013 Global Security Summit
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaking at Visa's 2013 Global Security Summit. Photo courtesy of Visa.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) outlined a number of cyber security bills she is planning to propose in Congress at the 2013 Visa Global Security Summit in Washington, D.C. today. But with this week’s government shutdown, the upcoming debt ceiling deadline and a Congress too clogged up with partisan politics to agree on anything, it’s doubtful any of the proposals will be considered any time soon, experts said.

Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, shared three bills that she said could help bolster the country’s defenses against hackers and cyber criminals.

The first bill proposed by the senator would create a cyber security contingent in each state’s National Guard forces that would partner with private sector organizations to deal with cyber attacks.

The second would provide tax breaks for companies that invest in their own cyber security worth 30% of those investments.

And the third would require the federal government to issue annual report cards on the progress made in each country around the world in fighting cyber crime, with the aim of holding individual countries responsible for taking action against cyber crime activities within its borders.

The country’s cyber defenses are badly in need of such improvements, Gillibrand insists. One general rated the country’s readiness for a major cyberattack against key U.S. infrastructure targets as a three out of ten, while attacks against infrastructure targets increased 17-fold last year, she reported.

“If we’re going to keep America safe we have to invest in cyber security, in the best solutions and best practices,” Senator Gillibrand stated.

But it is highly unlikely that Congress will take up the cyber security issue when it can’t even agree to keep the federal government up and running. Later at the summit a panel of reporters from Politico all unanimously agreed that any cyber security legislation would be shelved this year by Congress as it wrestles over the government shutdown and the coming deadline to raise the debt ceiling.

[See Related: Legislation Still Needed On National Cyber Security Standard]

Congress has completely stalled on cyber security legislation introduced earlier this year that is minimal compared to Senator Gillibrand’s suggested bills. “The legislation that is being stymied [in Congress] is about information sharing between parties and is limited in scope. That tells me that anything above that is not going to happen,” Byron Acohido, USA Today’s cyber security reporters said during a panel at Visa’s summit.

This doesn’t mean that the cyber security front is dead though. Acohido advised keeping an eye on states like California and Massachusetts that are considering data loss disclosure laws that would require greater sharing of cyber security information between private sector organizations and law enforcement.

And government agencies are already working on improving data sharing between themselves and the private sector within the limits of current laws, Donald Good, the FBI’s section chief for cyber ops and outreach, said during the same panel. “We’re seeing the private sector is more willing to share information with us… and we’re sharing with them things we’re seeing across the board,” Good explained. “It’s a much better data sharing environment right now then it was a few years ago.”

But Good also noted that current laws are working against law enforcement sometimes in the cyber crime area. Often there aren’t stiff enough penalties for cyber crimes to dissuade hackers and criminals to begin with, he said. Without the attention of the federal government and new legislation, efforts towards a stronger and better coordinated national cyber defense will continue to be frustrated, and that doesn’t bode well for banks.

[ Preventing DDoS Attacks: What is Your First Line of Defense? Find our more at Interop from September 30 through October 4.]

Jonathan Camhi has been an associate editor with Bank Systems & Technology since 2012. He previously worked as a freelance journalist in New York City covering politics, health and immigration, and has a master's degree from the City University of New York's Graduate School ... View Full Bio

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Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
10/11/2013 | 10:01:19 AM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
So true! When the cyber security legislation was going through Congress, I thought it made sense. But it was hung up on the tax incentives issue. As a result the Obama administration issued a presidential directive, which build on a directive issued by George W. Bush in 2008, to implement many cyber security processes. The presidential directive isn't ideal, but at least it is something.
Jonathan_Camhi
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Jonathan_Camhi,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 9:16:03 PM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
I'm sure that there are Congressional representatives who understand the issues of the day in technology. But unless they take action, their knowledge of the issues isn't helping anybody. As you say this is a great example of an intelligent common sense law. But Congress is a black hole right now, and cyber security legislation isn't getting out of there.
Jonathan_Camhi
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Jonathan_Camhi,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 9:05:30 PM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
Thank you Patrick for sharing this. This is definitely an important aspect of the shutdown and our cyber security as well. It's horrible to see so many people needlessly furloughed when they are doing such important work. It's clear that if Washington is serious about protecting the country's cyber security they will end this shut down.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2013 | 7:36:54 PM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
A handful of Congressmen actually do have a pretty good handle on the state of technology. Reps. Darrell issa (R-CA), who heads the House Reform committee, Mike Rogers (R-Mich) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) are very fluent in the technology issues.

Big Business and their lawyers are also demanding a lot of liability protection and tax incentives before they agree to support cyber legislation. Congress has become so dysfunctional right now, though, that even intelligent laws have a hard time getting any kind of traction or support.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2013 | 12:03:14 PM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
Great points, PatrickB. The military hasn't lost funding during the shutdown, but our cyber defenses are at risk. Given the volume and size of recent attacks, it could put the US in a very vulnerable position.

I hope for everyone's sake, this mess in Washington gets settled soon.
PatrickB222
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PatrickB222,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2013 | 1:27:28 AM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
During this shutdown, I am going without pay, and unlike
Civil Service employees, there has been no bill passed by the House to
reimburse contractors for their lost wages.

This situation creates a very serious danger for our nation
caused by a convergence of factors:

1) The
information systems of the United States Government are under continual attack from
sophisticated and well-funded foreign governments. At this moment, practically
no one is working to repel those attacks. We are in fact engaged in a cyber war
right now with several nations. And at this moment G«Ű no one is guarding the
fort.

2) Under
normal circumstances, the US Government has a serious shortage of trained
personnel to maintain countermeasures to those cyber attacks. Most of the personnel that do exist are now
furloughed contractors, who have no hope of reimbursement once they return to
work.

3) Since the private sector has a similar
shortage of trained cyber security personnel, it behooves those of us who are
employed as Federal contractors to seek more reliable employment elsewhere.
This will only increase the personnel shortage and exacerbate the risks to the
information systems that are an essential part of Federal Government
operations.

I have no doubt that several hostile foreign governments are
currently celebrating their unfettered freedom to compromise the security and
operational integrity of the Federal GovernmentG«÷s computers and networks. And I
am challenged to express in words how demoralizing it is to be considered G«£non-essentialG«•
and to be summarily tossed off our jobs and told to eek out an existence
without pay.

Those of us who work as cyber security contractors for the
Federal Government are generally paid less than our counterparts in the private
sector. Patriotism and pride in our mission is a large part of our
compensation. But pride and patriotism wonG«÷t pay our bills, feed our children,
or compensate for the lost wages caused by unreliable employment.
Zarna Patel
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Zarna Patel,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 2:25:01 PM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
I believe we have a mixture of scared teachers and government officials that don't understand how to deal with the progression of technology.

As a recent high school/college student (politically aware in both environments), I would say that the system which allows people to easily obtain teaching certificates is a huge problem as well as nepotism. Also, a lot of teachers are afraid of asking students to take on more creative projects like exploring and writing about historical sites in NYC - that project (extra credit assignment) was banned at my local high school because a few parents complained. NYC is also one of the safest cities in the United States.

Scared teachers don't make very good advocates in convincing Congress to pass legislation that promotes the progression and use of technology for sciences, math, verbal and written communications, etc.
Byurcan
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Byurcan,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 1:58:48 PM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
Actually, we spend more per student than virtually any other country in the world, yet still achieve these same results. Of course, we have a system in this country where educators who receive tenure are virtually unfireable, and resist any effort to introduce metrics or any kind of way to measure their job performance, so they really have no incentive to make sure students are learning.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 10:25:16 AM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
With Congress' track record being so bad at getting anything done, luckily the financial services industry is doing other things to address security. I guess since everyone knows Congress is pretty much useless, there have been a couple of presidential mandates (1998 and 2003) that have helped push cyber security response.

The
Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center
has been helping the industry share information (in near real-time). Sharing data on threats is one of the best ways to help formulate quick responses and is something that all security experts say is needed to combat growing security risks.
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Strategist
10/4/2013 | 2:41:36 AM
re: How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting U.S. Cyber Security
When you factor in these sad realities, then it's a little less surprising (but no less alarming) how poorly our educational system is performing globally in terms of math, science, writing -- when Congress addresses education it's about politics, score settling, etc. and not real education. We need a priority shift.
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