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What the Government Shutdown Meant for National Cyber Security

The United States Federal Government Shutdown of 2013 lasted for approximately half a month. During that time, citizens of the United States were generally only inconvenienced in that they were forced to constantly hear about the government shutdown from alarmist news agencies.

cyber securityHowever, while the nation’s military was exempt from the shut down in order to be able to better protect our country’s interests, a different and much more vulnerable front may have been left undefended: or nation’s cyber security. And although the shutdown may have been temporarily resolved with the signing of a bill on the 16th of October, the possibility of future shutdowns might mean that we could be placed in danger once again.

Cyber security is an issue with which most Americans have very little familiarity. At most, we generally tend to keep our own personal virus protection software up to date. Beyond that, we hardly consider the dangers. However, when it comes to national security, our country can’t afford to pay a passive role. There is no software secure enough or all-encompassing enough to be able to protect the United States’ assets from the constant attacks from hackers, both foreign and domestic. Thus, it is imperative that we maintain a vigilant force of experienced technicians and programmers who can intelligently respond to threats as they happen.

With the government shut down, many of these important posts were forced to go unmanned. Our nation’s virtual borders were left under-defended.

What was the effect of this lapse in cyber security? It’s difficult to say. It seems clear by now that no major attacks were precipitated during the shutdown. Had there been, we almost certainly would have seen or felt the effects by now. On the other hand, skilled intruders may have been able to find their way into government systems quietly, and the results of their actions may not yet have become detectable.

At the same time, the longer a network remains static without constant updates, the more in danger it is to new and evolving threats. Thus, when the government shutdown prevents its systems from being up-to-date, it creates a weakness in the system through which dangers may find an entrance. This also endangers other systems on the same network without WAN optimization or secure web gateways. Once the government shutdown ended, it is likely that those who deal with national cyber security were forced to rush to “catch up” with over half a month’s worth of work. As they do so, they may overlook key dangers or tell-tale signs of a cyber break-in. Likewise, until the systems are fully inspected, it will be impossible to say for sure whether any vital information was compromised.

At the same time, the shutdown has negatively affected cybersecurity from the other end, by delaying the passing of bills designed to prevent cybersecurity leaks, such as those proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She recently outlined three separate bills—one that would be used to offer tax breaks to companies that invest in enough cyber security, one that would create a special cyber-security division within a state’s National Guard, and one that would force the government to issue reports regarding the progress made by other countries in suppressing cyber crime. Unfortunately, with the more pressing concerns of bipartisan politics getting in the way, it is highly unlikely that any of these bills will see introduction any time soon.

As digital information becomes ever more valuable and sensitive, our nation’s defenses will have to be improved upon to the point where they are able to protect against cyber attacks. Unfortunately, with an un-unified government that is more concerned with party rivalry than it is with security, the possibility of being caught with our security down is all too real.

So, if things start to look as though they’re heading for another government shutdown, don’t worry. The buses should still run on time, and you’ll still get your newspaper delivered in the morning — you just might also have to face the nasty realization that the country isn’t secure from cyber attacks.

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