Experts: Lack of Pentagon cybersecurity talent leaves systems vulnerable

    Cropped Photo: gregwest98 via Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic MGN Online

    A new CNN/ORC poll shows that 40 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is losing the War on Terror. According to that same poll, more than 50 percent of Americans are not confident that the Obama administration can protect the nation against terror attacks.

    The White House, the Pentagon, national security officials, and federal lawmakers have all sounded the alarm bells on the importance of shoring up the nation's cyber networks against attacks.

    "It's a huge vulnerability, and there needs to be a priority placed on the federal government to get people in position to provide the protection to our infrastructure," says Peter Schweizer, conservative author and president of the Government Accountability Institute.

    Government agencies - including the Department of Defense - hire so-called "red teams" whose job it is to test the government's networks for vulnerabilities and help provide that protection. But according to a report obtained from federal lawmakers, just 50 team members stand between attackers and U.S. military cyber systems.

    Pay is the most glaring reason as to why the Pentagon cannot retain talent in this field.

    "If you're highly talented and you can go make large sums of money in Silicon Valley or for a private tech security firm, going to work for the federal government - probably at lower pay - is not going to be as attractive," Schweizer said.

    There is also the often discussed skills gap. Michael Greenberger of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security points out that having IT skills is not enough for the type of work required in the government's cyber defense ranks.

    Greenberger says, "We are, as a nation, behind in our education of experts in the cyber field."

    But then, there are the bureaucratic challenges.

    "You see bureaucrats thinking at the speed of their understanding which is way outdated," says

    Lt. Colonel Anthony "Tony" Shaffer (Ret.), a defense intelligence expert and fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.

    Experts like Shaffer say one of the biggest examples of outdated thinking was the data breach of the Office of Personnel Management networks. That breach was confirmed this past summer and reportedly, hackers had access to the system from Spring 2014 until Spring 2015. There are reports that approximately 21.5 million federal employees and their families were affected by that breach.

    Shaffer says of that attack, "We had people who were, frankly, stupid, at the top who didn't recognize the cyber space changing on the past decade. That malaise at that level has resulted in huge data compromises."

    A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, asking for more compensation and better training to recruit and retain talent in the cybersecurity field, experts say the federal government must also change its way of thinking.

    "If you recognize what you've been doing in the past is failing, then you ought to do something new," says Shaffer.

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