Information Warfare: Hackers Love the Government


June 25, 2007: A recent audit of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) computer networks found that, in 2005 and 2006, there were over a thousand successful break-ins. The DHS systems were found to have numerous weaknesses and vulnerabilities. DHS is still trying to find out which classified information was compromised, and to what extent their systems are now infected with software that gives outsiders regular access.

The situation at DHS is not unusual for government computer systems. The military networks are in somewhat better shape, but all government systems suffer from being unable to hire the people they need to keep their systems secure. It's a very tight job market out there for network security experts. Financial institutions and large companies in general, are able to offer the best pay and benefits, and thus attract the best people.

But there's another serious problem. The people running civilian organizations, especially those in charge of computer security, are much better at their jobs than are their government counterparts. Again, it's largely a matter of money, and working conditions. Being a computer security manager for a government agency means you work with a smaller budget than you would for a civilian organization of comparable size. In addition, you have Congress, and even your own bosses, ready to hang you out to dry for any problems in your networks, whether you screwed up or not. The media is always ready to pounce and, well, you get the picture. Recruiting quality data security managers for DHS, or any other government agency, is very difficult.

On the bright side, other governments have the same problems, and often worse ones at that. China, which is one of the leading practitioners of Cyber War, is more vulnerable than the United States because of a relative (to the United States) shortage of network security managers and engineers. The Chinese, since they are running a police state, are not releasing any information about the degree to which their systems have been penetrated and compromised, but Chinese computer users speak openly of the shabby state of government computer security..


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