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$6 Billion Cyber Monitoring Initiative Falls Victim to Shutdown

Andrea Danti/Shutterstock.com

The Obama administration, apparently because of the shutdown, has halted work orders for a $6 billion network threat-surveillance system scheduled to be deployed governmentwide, a key project contractor said. 

McAfee officials said they expected the administration to issue vendors specific information technology tasks this week, but that is very unlikely due to the lapse in federal funding. McAfee is supporting 10 of the 17 prime contractors awarded potential five-year deals in August to offer "continuous monitoring" of vulnerabilities, such as unauthorized users on networks. Agencies essentially would be allowed to select among each contractor’s bundled sensors, risk-status displays and professional consulting services. 

Ken Kartsen, vice president of McAfee Federal, said in an email that the company is "waiting for continuous monitoring to become a reality." Having the technology in place will give government an extra resource in situations such as shutdowns, he said, but ironically, the shutdown is probably delaying the issuance of the continuous monitoring contract task orders.

Once the program deploys, central "dashboard" displays will show the Homeland Security Department "what’s going on across all the civilian agencies," he said. "In the meantime, IT managers have to remain especially vigilant.”

In August, the General Services Administration, which assisted in the acquisition, created a webpage  for agencies wanting to reserve continuous monitoring packages. GSA's shutdown plans for this week -- embedded in a link on the page -- state the department "will not accept new orders for workspace, products, or services except when they are needed by the ordering agency to support excepted or exempt activities." 

DHS, the agency responsible for protecting civilian networks, is paying the bill to roll out the surveillance technology governmentwide. As recently as Sept. 13, DHS officials told the Government Accountability Office, in a letter, that "leveraging available federal funding," the department "will deliver continuous diagnostics tools and services to participating federal civilian agencies." 

DHS officials did not respond to a request for comment. GSA officials were not immediately able to comment. 

The White House has called for continuous monitoring since 2010, but many agencies do not have enough knowhow or funding to handle the near real-time attention required. Almost a third of agencies went without continuous monitoring programs in 2012, according to federal inspectors general.

The automated checking is intended to help human managers notice oddities in networks, diagnose the problems and their associated risks, and then prioritize fixes.  

It remains to be seen how project interruptions will affect contractor jobs. In separate interviews, several cyber consultants working for various federal departments said either that meetings have not been cancelled yet or that delays have not been too impactful. 

This story has been updated with additional information from McAfee. 

(Image via Andrea Danti/Shutterstock.com)

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