recommended reading

Sequestration Positions Cyber Command for a Fall

Michael Guggemos/Shutterstock.com

By the end of April, the Pentagon will be devoting less attention and fewer staff to network security under spending cuts set for Friday, according to budget analysts.

Mandatory, across-the-board decreases in funding will spare the salaries of uniformed Cyber Command members, but many of those personnel will be focused on sequester planning rather than operations. Meanwhile, their civilian peers face furloughs. Defense Department officials must reduce every program’s budget by about 8 percent.

"That workload is going to detract from the actual mission work because you know jobs are at stake. Incomes are at stake," said Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Certain contractors will be let go and civilians will be furloughed for one day a week starting mid-April through the end of September, under the 2011 Budget Control Act that resolved a debt-ceiling crisis. The skeletal programming could continue through 2014 because the $10 billion slashing each year won’t sunset without new legislation.

Harrison said he would not rule out the possibility of long-term axe wielding. "I would call it a worst case scenario," he said. The sequester starting on Friday "was put in place as an unthinkable," but it is now likely, he said. "Now, this 2014 unthinkable [scenario] -- we have to start thinking about it." 

Adversaries looking for weaknesses in U.S. networks are taking note of the sky-is-falling discourse as Pentagon leaders prepare for the worst, some defense experts say.

Jim Lewis, a researcher with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who advises Congress and the Obama administration, said in the fall the notion officials are projecting that the military's guard is down could be a greater threat to national security than the reality of the military’s strength. The bigger risk is "to the foreign perception of U.S. capabilities," he said. "They would decide we are more vulnerable and less competent."

Harrison said, “The rhetoric that is being used, our allies and adversaries are listening to that and we may be sending the wrong message.”

Lawmakers could quickly change the course of events -- without sacrificing the fiscal constraints they voted for -- by passing a measure to grant officials a degree of flexibility when making cuts, according to research.

"The big question is whether the agencies can make tradeoffs among programs within each of the thousands of accounts that would be cut," said Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer at market research firm Deltek.

President Obama might have created a loophole to permit tradeoffs by ignoring legislation related to the deficit deal, he said.

"The Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 required the White House to illustrate the effects of a sequester down to program, project and activity level. The White House did not answer that data requirement under the act," Bjorklund noted. "I think the White House also resisted reporting at [that] level to ensure they will have enough flexibility to do what makes sense for national security."

He estimates that Defense cyber activities will be scaled back by about $600 million to $800 million total. The types of programs targeted, given some flexibility, might include departmentwide training to heighten awareness of the types of cyber assaults deserving of a U.S. military response.

Cyberwar rehearsals or security tests that employ simulations also could be hampered. "Comprehensive fit-out of new CYBERCOM mission facilities," as well as academic research into novel cyber defense and information operations could be dented, Bjorklund said.

Other analysts are optimistic that Congress can cooperate on legislative fixes to tighten America’s national and economic security, especially in cyberspace.

Within the past two months, The New York Times, Apple, Microsoft and security contractor Bit9 have admitted falling victim to breaches that security researchers term "sophisticated" attacks -- a euphemism for nation state-sponsored intrusions. The White House issued an executive order requiring that agencies exchange with industry sensitive information about threats, and asking that industry do the same. The administration also released a strategy to counter cyber espionage, after computer forensic firm Mandiant tied the Chinese military to more than 140 spying operations in mostly English-speaking countries. And the Pentagon announced a planned five-fold uptick in cyber forces at home and abroad. 

"I don't expect the across-the-board approach will last very long if at all," said Shawn P. McCarthy, an IDC Government Insights research director. "Given the current state of events, cybersecurity would be the least logical area to cut.” 

(Image via Michael Guggemos/Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.