How A Government Shutdown Effects Cybersecurity |

March 27, 2019

Of all the long-lasting impacts of the recent government shutdown, cybersecurity may be the most concerning — especially as the vulnerabilities exposed during this situation are sure to emerge again, putting the digital privacy of countless Americans on the line. The partial government shutdown at the beginning of the year shuttered numerous federal agencies, with each of their IT departments closing alongside them. For more than a month, the work that federal IT specialists perform on a daily basis was halted, setting in motion a series of threats to cybersecurity that persist today.

For one, the basic maintenance that each agency’s IT team performs was paused. Among the many implications, that caused more than 130 security certificates for federal sites to expire, making it easier for hackers to redirect users to a fake site modeled after one of the agency’s pages. In that case, a visitor looking to learn more about their Social Security benefits, for instance, could have been easily enticed to submit a Social Security number and other personal, sensitive data to a fake site, putting data privacy at extreme risk.

Among the other effects of the government shutdown, cybersecurity was also threatened by the lack of staff actively monitoring threats. With a digital presence as robust as the U.S. federal government, we need many pairs of eyes actively at work every day to root out potential risks. However, for 35 days, IT staff weren’t able to do that.

Now that the government is back up and running, the IT tasks that fell by the wayside during the shutdown have created a backlog that could pose its own risk to cybersecurity. With staffers focused on catching up and getting things in order that were knocked off course by the shutdown, their attention may be diverted from pressing security threats. On top of this complication is the fact that, because of the government shutdown, cybersecurity experts who work for the federal government may be among the scores of employees now questioning their future with the government. The shutdown was a major blow to the morale of the federal workforce and could impact both retention and hiring — setting off a trickle-down effect on the quality of cybersecurity departments.

Thankfully, the shutdown is in the rearview mirror — and the many ramifications of it have lawmakers and decision-makers scrambling to ensure any future shutdowns won’t have such adverse effects on the American economy and cybersecurity. Among the solutions floated is elevating the status of some IT workers to ensure they’re deemed essential personnel and can keep working to protect cybersecurity in the face of any interruptions. While the shutdown generated a wealth of lessons learned, among the most apparent is the vital need of high-quality IT professionals to protect the privacy, safety, and freedom of Americans in our digital age.

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