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Part of Western Governors University

November 27, 2018

Information Technology

The need for cyber security experts in government.

White government building

What is cyber security and why does the government struggle with it?

Cybersecurity is the prevention of and defense against attacks on digital data. Cyber hackers use their skills to break into security networks and systems to steal data and information. This can lead to identity and cyber data theft, leaving organizations and individuals open to threats. In May of 2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the Federal Cybersecurity Risk Determination Report and Action Plan. The results didn’t look great. The OMB found that 74 percent of federal agencies are at least “at risk,” with many being at “high risk” of being victims of cyber attacks. While many agencies are vulnerable to security breaches, even more don’t know how to determine what kind of secure software runs on their systems. Only one quarter of the government agencies said they had the capability to handle signs of a cyber data attack or hack. The report says, "Federal agencies do not have the visibility into their networks to effectively detect data exfiltration attempts and respond to cybersecurity incidents.” Only half of the government agencies said they had processes to communicate cyber risks across their enterprise. The report goes on to detail how small percentages of government agencies are prepared for any kind of attack like malware, security vulnerability, or denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

So why doesn’t the government struggle with cyber security so much? There are many factors, but the most common are budget issues, lack of qualified staff, security management problems, outdated infrastructure, lack of support, and inadequate network security frameworks. These issues leave government agencies and networks, and thereby millions of Americans, with vulnerability to security attacks or threats.

Types of cyber attacks perpetrated on the US government.

Recently there have actually been many cyber attacks on the US government. In just 9 years, the number of cyber attacks grew from 5,000 to 77,000 in a year. Just last year, Russian hackers attacked the email system of the State Department in what is often called the worse cyber attack on a government agency. It’s estimated that 5.6 million Americans’ fingerprints were stolen in another cyber attack just a few years earlier. Sensitive data of the federal government has great vulnerability when it comes to cyber threats, and experts are needed to help protect against these threats. Things like ransomware, distributed denial-of-service attacks, cyber bots, and cryptojacking are just the beginning of the kind of cyber attacks the US is facing. Hackers use malicious code, unauthorized access, scanners and probes, and investigation to try and get into government networks and steal information.

Dark room computer hacking

The IT skills gap.

According to IBM’s Security Intelligence website,  part of the government’s lack of cyber security preparedness stems from the “IT skills gap.” This basically means that there are nearly 300,000 jobs for cybersecurity professionals that aren’t filled. Due to the competition for talented candidates across the private sector, government positions are often filled more slowly. Because of this shortfall, many government cybersecurity positions are filled by contract workers. While contract workers are good solutions to a large problem, many agencies would prefer to use their resources to have full-time candidates filling these roles. More specific training, opportunities to build up employees, and expansion of cyber security abilities are possible with full-time workers. But unfortunately, there just aren’t enough candidates qualified with the correct IT skills to fill these vacancies within the government.

Hands on keyboard doing cyber security

Government cyber security jobs.

There are all kinds of cyber security jobs available in the government level. Nearly every government department requires cybersecurity experts. The types of work vary based on the department and its specific needs. The types of jobs include; cybersecurity analysts, ethical hackers, security architects, engineers, consultants, administrators, and information officers. All of these job titles play an important role in an organization’s security. They do things like research the best kind of software to implement, work with development teams to install and utilize cyber security programs, research strategy for protecting national documents and targets, look for areas where security needs to be strengthened, work with other employees across the organization to manage cyber security best practices, and more. In government agencies this kind of work is doubly important, because the information available to steal can consist of a huge number of people’s information, or government work that is meant to be confidential.

Computer left alone by hacker

Solutions to the problem.

The best solution to this cyber security problem lies within employees. The cyber security field will benefit as more people work to get training and degrees in cyber security. With more people working toward a cyber security degree, that IT skills gap will close, and government agencies will have more people ready to protect against cyber threats. Schools like WGU have programs dedicated to the computer science, writing, and research elements that are critical for cyber security experts. The WGU program offers IT degrees and certifications, which combine to make candidates more qualified and ready for cyber security challenges that will come. Online programs are often extremely beneficial for cyber security students because they are able to get a taste for maneuvering different kinds of software and working online with faculty and peers; a real look into daily cybersecurity life. Online programs like WGU are able to help students complete their work faster and on their own timetable, getting them prepared to fill that IT skills gap more quickly. Government agencies need qualified cyber security candidates as quickly as possible, so getting a degree fast is vital to get in and start working to protect our country.

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