As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assumes more comprehensive control of the nation's digital defenses, officials have not been shy about expressing their desire for informed assistance. Several important international and cross-sector initiatives have been instituted in recent months, but the agency must also focus on growing from within. As a result, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently appealed to current IT professionals considering new career moves while emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity education for the rising generation of Americans.
Recognizing the demand
There's never a dull moment when it comes to preserving national cybersecurity, but the last few weeks have been particularly turbulent for DHS staffers. In a recent speaking engagement, Napolitano candidly confirmed suspicions that U.S. financial institutions have been facing a wave of web-based threats.
"Right now, financial institutions are actively under attack. We know what. I'm not giving you any classified information," Napolitano said, according to The Hill. "I will say this has involved some of our nation's largest institutions. We've also had our stock exchanges attacked over the last [few] years, so we know … there are vulnerabilities."
According to The Hill, the secretary then shifted the discussion to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. As Napolitano noted, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure can shut down utilities, transit and commerce with the same speed and severity as Mother Nature.
DHS has expanded its cybersecurity workforce by approximately 600 percent in recent years, according to The Hill, and continues to ask for "double-digit" budget increases to help ward off evolving Internet and data security threats. But while funding may not be entirely within the agency's control, officials have been adopting a more proactive approach to employee recruitment.
Building the supply
According to FederalNewsRadio, DHS already has approximately 600 new workers queued up in the pipeline. However, Napolitano is seeking an expansion of powers that could expedite the hiring process with a level of efficiency that rivals that of private sector firms. Many of these provisions, including the ability to independently set incentive levels and establish scholarship programs, are contained in the comprehensive cybersecurity bill currently being floated in Congress.
Alternatively, DHS is looking into setting up a contingency task force that would be called into action in the event of a crippling cyberattack. According to Reuters, this "Cyber Reserve" concept is being viewed as a crucial means of attracting and retaining talent that could formerly expect higher earning potential in the private sector.
DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute told Reuters that she expects to have a working model of this program in place within the next 12 months. Initial recruitment will focus primarily on retired federal workers who have gone on to accept consultant positions or similar roles with private Internet security companies. However, Lute hopes to eventually open the floor to candidates with no native public sector experience.
Finally, the agency has extended its view beyond merely next quarter and next year and started looking well into the next decade. In a recent blog post, Napolitano spoke to the significance of instilling a strong sense of cybersecurity fundamentals in American students.
"We are extending the the scope of cyber education beyond the federal workplace through the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, involving students from kindergarten through post-graduate school," Napolitano wrote. "And we sponsor the U.S. Cyber Challenge, a program that works with academia and the private sector to identify and develop the best and brightest cyber talent to meet our nation's growing and changing security needs."
Establishing this level of engagement at an early age could be important for factors aside from skill-building as well. As many DHS employees acknowledge, it is their intellectual curiosity and sense of purpose that makes them think twice before seeking potentially more lucrative opportunities in the private sector.
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