As attacks increase, U.S. struggles to recruit computer security experts

As attacks increase, U.S. struggles to recruit computer security experts
As attacks increase, U.S. struggles to recruit computer security experts 

By Ellen Nakashima and Brian Krebs
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 23, 2009

The federal government is struggling to fill a growing demand for 
skilled computer-security workers, from technicians to policymakers, at 
a time when network attacks are rising in frequency and sophistication.

Demand is so intense that it has sparked a bidding war among agencies 
and contractors for a small pool of special talent: skilled technicians 
with security clearances. Their scarcity is driving up salaries, 
depriving agencies of skills, and in some cases affecting project 
quality, industry officials said.

The crunch hits as the Pentagon is attempting to staff a new Cyber 
Command to fuse offensive and defensive computer-security missions and 
the Department of Homeland Security plans to expand its own "cyber" 
force by up to 1,000 people in the next three years. Even President 
Obama struggled to fill one critical position: Seven months after Obama 
pledged to name a national cyber-adviser, the White House announced 
Tuesday that Howard Schmidt, a former Bush administration official and 
Microsoft chief security officer, will lead the nation's efforts to 
better protect its critical computer networks.

The lack of trained defenders for these networks is leading to serious 
gaps in protection and significant losses of intelligence, national 
security experts said. The Government Accountability Office told a 
Senate panel in November that the number of scans, probes and attacks 
reported to the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Computer 
Emergency Readiness Team has more than tripled, from 5,500 in 2006 to 
16,840 in 2008.

"We know how we can be penetrated," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin 
(D-Md.), chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism and 
homeland security. "We don't know how to prevent it effectively."

Indeed, the protection of critical computer systems and sensitive data, 
said former National Security Agency director William Studeman, may be 
the "biggest single problem" facing the national security establishment.


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