Report: Federal IT professionals fear cyberattack imminent

A new study released this week said the professionals fear an attack on "critical" U.S. infrastructure will be launched by the end of the year. The professionals also fear the federal government won't be able to handle the attack, according to the poll.

Few of the IT experts polled said they spent a significant amount of time preparing federal computers and systems to handle a vast cyberattack, according to the report.

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The numbers arrive this week as part of the "Federal Cybersecurity Outline for 2010" survey, a report conducted by Clarus Research Group and commissioned by Lumension, a cybersecurity firm. The study asked roughly 200 federal IT professionals and decisionmakers who work in the defense and national-security communities to indicate how confident they were the United States could stave off a massive cybersecurity threat.

The survey arrives on the heels of a series of cyberattacks that targeted U.S. businesses, including Google, earlier this year.

Ultimately, the report found that few IT professionals felt the federal government was adequately prepared to handle a breach of sizable proportions. 

Roughly 74 percent of IT professionals who work in national security felt a foreign-based cyberattack by the year's end was imminent. Meanwhile, 42 percent of all IT respondents ranked the government's ability to handle that threat as "only fair" or "poor."

Of greatest concern to surveyed IT officials is the "sophistication and growth" of cyberattacks, according to the poll. About 64 percent of those queried this month signaled new advances in malware and hacking technology presented the "biggest" security risk to federal agencies, the survey found.

Lawmakers have since attempted to pre-empt some of those concerns, introducing legislation that would protect critical IT infrastructure in the event of a manifest cyber breach.

President Barack Obama has homed the administration in on possible network threats, implementing many of the proposals included as part of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, piloted under former President George W. Bush.

However, few federal IT professionals told pollsters they spent significant time working to implement that initiative's recommendations. A majority of respondents said they devoted less than 10 percent of their work efforts last year to those proposals, which the White House has described as essential for protecting federal networks.

Lumension CEO Pat Clawson described the poll's results in a statement earlier this week as evidence the federal government must be more proactive.

"Unfortunately, when it comes to our infrastructure, we are already under attack and are faced with the reality of a growing and advanced persistent threat from foreign entities that are targeting our critical U.S. infrastructure," he said. "The traditional government responses we've seen so far, such as naming a security coordinator, announcing a cyber security initiative and focusing on compliance initiatives, will not alone successfully address this problem."