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  • Robert Stines

The “Wall Shutdown” and Cybersecurity

The U.S. federal government has been shut down since Dec. 22 (partially). If you did not know, a government shutdown is when non-essential discretionary federal programs close. It occurs when Congress fails to appropriate funds.

The reason for the shutdown is that President Trump wants approximately $5.7 billion (the amount changes) to build new steel barriers along 234 miles of the southern border, and he needs Congress to approve the money. This has led to a Democrat vs. Republican stalemate.

Impact on Cybersecurity

The stalemate has left several agencies responsible for the nation’s cybersecurity—including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission— with depleted resources.

Our cyber-warriors were already running on a skeleton crew, but the shutdown may have compromised our limited cyber defenses. It is not clear whether cybersecurity is a discretionary federal program, but reports are that 13% of Homeland Security, 17% of Justice, and 42% of State were furloughed.

Impact on Economy

This is not meant to be a political commentary about whether we need a wall, but have we have lost sight of an identifiable 21st century threat?

The U.S. government has already stated that the cyber threat is significant, and we are inadequately prepared for a cyberattack. A recent report from the White House stated that malicious cyber activity cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016. That number probably increased exponentially in 2018.

Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are the primary foreign culprits responsible for much cyber activity against the U.S.

The report also stated that cyberattacks against critical infrastructure sectors could be highly damaging to the U.S. economy. To put this in perspective, 214 records were compromised per second in 2018.

Yes, illegal immigration might have a similar economic impact. There are reports that illegal immigration cost the U.S. economy approximately $116 billion. To be fair, however, it is extremely difficult to calculate the impact of illegal immigration because no one really knows how many illegal immigrants are in the U.S. I mean . . . they are trying to hide from the people who do the calculations.

It’s All About $$$.

Hostile cyber activity is increasing on a daily basis with a shortage of talent to defend against the threat.

The government is already struggling to attract talent because the compensation pales in comparison to what a cyber professional can earn in the private sector. This shutdown is certainly going to hurt the government’s retention and recruiting efforts when it comes to cyber-related personnel.

Just like the wall, beefing up cybersecurity is expensive. It is difficult to determine how much the U.S. spends on cyber. For fiscal year 2017, the Omnibus Appropriations bill said: “much of [cyber] funding is encompassed within larger programs and funding lines, which limits visibility and congressional oversight of requested funding for cyberspace activities specifically.”

The White House reports that the President’s budget for fiscal year 2019 includes “$15 billion of budget authority for cybersecurity-related activities, a $583.4 million (4.1 percent) increase above the FY 2018 Estimate.” Due to the sensitive nature of some activities, this amount does not represent the entire cyber budget. This means we really do not know how much the U.S. is spending on cybersecurity and we really DO NOT WANT to know (because so will Russia, China and every other state-sponsored actor in cyberspace).

Get Back to the 21st Century

Here is the bottom line: Our cyber defenses have been significantly compromised because of a debate over a wall. This shutdown may cause an increase is cyber-related hostile activity that we will not appreciate for years to come.

So, while the government is fighting over a concept that dates back to ancient times, maybe we should focus on 21st century reality. Let’s get our cyber-warriors back to work.

P.S. I have an idea. How about we really focus on detection and prevention of state-sponsored cyberattacks against the U.S. private sector. A Cyber Wall.

~ Florida Cyber Lawyer, Robert Stines, Esq., CIPP


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