DOJ will Struggle to Respond to Cyber Threats, Inspector Warns

by Matt Klassen on November 19, 2015

The US Department of Justice (DOJ), which includes the FBI and Homeland Security, will struggle to effectively respond to the growing level of cyber-threats against the nation, said DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz in a recent report.

Horowitz, whose job it is, among many other things, to detect and deter waste, fraud, and misconduct within the Federal agency, warned that the DOJ “will be challenged to sustain a focused, well coordinated, and robust cybersecurity approach for the foreseeable future.” Of course the news couldn’t come at a worse time for the US government, as cybercrime, not only against the government, but against American citizens and businesses, has risen sharply, leaving many feeling vulnerable and exposed.

Not only that, but having fostered any ethos of suspicion and distrust of late regarding government surveillance tactics and other such unethical covert initiatives, the Inspector added that the DOJ will “face challenges” when it comes to information sharing and effective partnerships, due, in part, to “privacy concerns and a general distrust of government,” meaning the job of effectively combating the growing tide of cybercrime will be daunting, if not virtually impossible, going forward.

As I mentioned, one of the most disconcerted facts about America’s cyber-readiness is that the government itself has been the victim of a number of devastating cyber-attacks of late; attacks that often left the private, sometimes even highly confidential, information about government employees exposed, leaving millions vulnerable to identity theft, blackmail or a host of other crimes.

Further, the Inspector’s report found that it was seemingly difficult for the DOJ to attract qualified employees to the public sector to help combat cybercrime, and even more difficult to retain “top talent.”

“We found that the FBI failed to hire 52 of the 134 computer scientists that it was authorized to hire, and that 5 of the 56 field offices did not have a computer scientist assigned to that office’s Cyber Task Force,” the report said. Couple this difficult to find the right people and the general unwillingness of the private sector to help, and one can see why the future of federal digital law enforcement looks bleak indeed.

Of course the inspector’s observation that data sharing and partnerships will be difficult to establish is in no small part a back-handed slap to the private sector tech industry, which has instituted encryption standards that are all but unbreakable, meaning that law enforcement agencies are often left in the dark. Not only that, but when companies do partner with the government, it often looks very bad for those companies, meaning there is significant financial incentive to not work with law enforcement, at least not on any voluntary basis.

But not everyone sees the current state of cyber-readiness so negatively, as Attorney General Loretta Lynch rejected the remarks by the Inspector at a House judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday.

“We are placing particular emphasis on countering security threats in cyberspace. We are perpetually on guard against individuals, organized groups, terrorists and state actors who might attempt to steal our data, endanger our economy, compromise our privacy and threaten our security,” Lynch said in prepared remarks.

“I’ve also been meeting personally with corporate executives and general counsels around the country to spread our message of cyber-awareness, encourage strategic collaboration and find new ways to protect American consumers,” she added, but did not say from which companies.

But as I’ve always said, crime always move faster than lumbering bureaucracy, and given the exponential growth rates of cybercrime, government agencies are already struggling to effectively respond to emerging digital threats; saying nothing about just how unprepared they’ll be tomorrow to respond to whatever else criminals might think up.

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