Homeland Security official: Shutdown would hurt cyber defenses

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A top Homeland Security Department (DHS) cybersecurity official on Wednesday painted a bleak picture of the agency’s cyber efforts under a shutdown.

Even a brief lapse in funding could leave government networks and websites exposed, delay the deployment of new security measures and hurt private-sector relationships, said Suzanne Spaulding, under secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the DHS, during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

{mosads}DHS funding is set to run out at the end of the week, and no clear resolution is in sight on Capitol Hill.

The government is “under daily moment-by-moment efforts by adversaries to penetrate our systems,” Spaulding said. “Anything that hampers or slows us down creates risk for us and for the nation.”

“Does this put us in a position of jeopardy?” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked Spaulding. “Are we at a serious moment in history that you need all hands on deck?”

“That’s an accurate statement,” Spaulding replied. “We are running on a daily basis full speed ahead to try and keep ahead of those efforts of those adversaries.”

Specifically, a shutdown would hurt several long-term DHS network security projects, Spaulding said.

The DHS has been expanding its network monitoring system, known as “Einstein,” to more federal agencies.

Einstein “will help us not just protect, but block intrusions coming in,” Spaulding said. “These activities and rolling this out will have to stop in the event of a funding hiatus.”

Every week that goes by without funding means “another couple agencies that are not brought on board,” she added.

The agency’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program would also face delays.

CDM “looks inside that civilian government network,” Spaulding said, “to look at [its] health.”

The DHS’s cyber work has received heightened attention since January, when the White House started pushing to put the agency at the center of the government’s public-private cyber partnerships.

President Obama recently signed an executive order directing the DHS to establish guidelines for the public and private sector to share cyber threat data.

Those efforts would have to wait if the DHS shuts down, Spaulding said.

After hearing the dangers laid out, committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) interjected to decry the possibility of a shutdown.

“I don’t think we should be playing politics with the national security agency given the high-threat environment we’re in today,” he said.

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