US government shutdown fears prompt cyber vulnerability warning

AS the US Congress agreed a patchwork deal to fund the US Government departments, there are warnings that the United States will be open to cyber-attack if its politicians do not take action to find a long term solution.

As Congress agreed a 45 day deal to fund departments in an effort to find a workable long term solution just three hours before Sunday’s deadline it has been reported that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has said it would furlough 80% of its staff if and when the US government shuts down.

Colin Little, Security Engineer at Centripetal, explained the failure to find the Department of Homeland Security would have significant ramification for the country’s cyber security.

“A federal government shutdown can weaken the cybersecurity posture of a nation, leaving it more vulnerable to cyberattacks and potentially harming national security, public trust, and international cooperation in the realm of cybersecurity,” he said. “Maintaining robust cybersecurity practices during a shutdown should be a top priority to mitigate these risks and ensure the continued protection of critical systems and sensitive data.”

He said a shutdown would see:

  • Reduced Cybersecurity Workforce: During a government shutdown, many federal agencies furlough or reduce their workforce, including cybersecurity professionals. This decrease in staffing can hamper the government’s ability to monitor and respond to cyber threats effectively. It may also lead to delays in implementing security updates and patches, leaving systems vulnerable to known vulnerabilities.
  • Increased Vulnerabilities: With limited resources and personnel available to maintain and update critical systems and networks, vulnerabilities may persist or go unaddressed. Cybercriminals often take advantage of such opportunities to launch attacks on government infrastructure, steal sensitive data, or disrupt services.
  • Delayed Incident Response: A shutdown can hinder the government’s ability to respond swiftly to cybersecurity incidents. This delay can allow attackers to maintain access to compromised systems for longer periods, potentially causing more damage and increasing the cost of recovery.
  • Economic Impact: The economic costs of a government shutdown can indirectly impact cybersecurity. Reduced funding for cybersecurity initiatives and research may limit the development of advanced security measures and technologies. This can leave the government and critical infrastructure sectors more susceptible to evolving cyber threats.
  • Supply Chain Risks: Many federal agencies rely on contractors and vendors for cybersecurity services and products. A shutdown can disrupt supply chains, delaying the acquisition and implementation of essential cybersecurity tools and services.
  • Erosion of Public Trust: Prolonged government shutdowns can erode public trust in the government’s ability to protect sensitive data and critical infrastructure. This lack of trust can have long-lasting implications for national security and public-private cooperation on cybersecurity efforts.
  • International Implications: Cybersecurity is a global concern, and a government shutdown in one country can affect international cybersecurity efforts. It may disrupt information sharing and collaboration between nations, making it harder to address global cyber threats effectively.”

Martin Jartelius, CSO at Outpost24, added: “CISA fills many important functions – one of those in getting information across to organizations on what vulnerabilities and sectors are currently targeted by threat actors, and their new methods of operations.

“CISA ceasing to function as normal will not lead to new attacks, it will lead to organizations being less prepared to respond to the same ones we would see with or without them in operations.

“Already today we can see other US entities from time to time being strained for resources, and tracking for example both Chinese and US sources for information security is important as from time we can notice for example Chinese counterparts of NVD predate changes by up to a few weeks – not common but recurrently so.

“What organisations can do is relatively simple – If the government cannot keep you provided by actionable, accurate threat intelligence, get other sources. For many organizations, CISA is just one of several sources to turn to for information and support, many start by finding a trusted provider and as they grow and mature tap into several sources to get a good insight.

“Backing this with solid inventory of your attack surface so you can prepare to defend, and a mature solution for vulnerability identification which you can merge with your threat intelligence for priority should replace those bits many rely on CISA for with something more tangible and hands on. Overall, a good idea, government supported or not.”