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Cyber is the name of the game, and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is sadly struggling to keep up with civilian competition. The DHS is charged with protecting government and private computer systems from cyber attacks, but lacks the skilled personnel capable of defending against sophisticated foes. The Department’s troubles are two-fold: the private sector offers far more attraction compensation packages and higher pay than the government body can, which is further compounded by the fact the the DHS doesn’t have the allure of intelligence agencies.
“We are competing in a tough marketplace against a private sector that is in a position to offer a lot more money,” said Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson. “We need more cybertalent without a doubt in DHS, in the federal government, and we are not where we should be right now, that is without a doubt.”
And this concern is far from unfounded. As was recently disclosed, Iranian hackers attacked the control systems of a dam in New York state, while a cyberattack against the Ukrainian power grid last year left 225,000 with no electricity in the dead of winter. The New York Times reports that in the US, nearly 300 attacks “were reported on critical infrastructure last year, up from just under 200 in 2012.” These include targets in healthcare, manufacturing, and other sectors. Attacks on critical national infrastructure are now a reality, and governments need to be prepared to protect against them.
The DHS is clearly unprepared to face the threat. With a staff of just 691 the DHS is stretched too thin to secure the state. Now, the DHS is stepping up its game. The Department is looking to hire up to 1,000 new cyber-staff by end of June to bolster its defensive capabilities.