Murphy's Law: Defective Software and Security

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September 8, 2005

Another casualty of the war on terror is the development of high tech gear for the CIA and Department of Defense. With so many more new people being hired for the war on terror, and most of them requiring security clearances, the governments ability to do background checks, and grant those clearances, has not kept up. Since the counter-terrorism organizations get priority on new clearances, the companies that need clearances for programmers and other technical people, are finding themselves waiting longer and longer. Last year, some 70 percent of defense contractors had many cases of  waiting up to nine months for clearances. This year, its up to 80 percent. Getting someone pushed to the head of the queue takes lots of clout. Not all projects have this kind of clout, and you cant use people for classified work unless they have the proper clearance. So there are delays. Some contractors get around this by offering bonuses to applicants who already have the right security clearances. Thus some techies are betting up to 25 percent more money than they usually would, simply because they have the right clearances. This has other effects, which are not much talked about. Often the best people for a particular job cannot be hired, because the government wants the product ASAP, and that means you have to take whoever is qualified (on paper) and has a clearance. For many design and programming jobs, this can have very negative long range effects. Having the second (or worse) best people creating your software will usually result in a less reliable, less capable and more expensive (in the long run, with all the subsequent patches) product. Years from now, many defective military items (hardware and software), will be blamed, with some justification, on the security clearance bottleneck currently underway. The bottleneck has proven resistant to any solution, and will apparently continue for some time.

 


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