Agencies Under Cyberattack: Staying Ahead of the Hackers
This article is featured in the magazine, Protecting Against Cyberattacks: A Guide for Public Safety Leaders. Download it now.
By Dr. Harry Cooper, Faculty Member, Cybersecurity and Information Technology, American Military University
The launch of personal computers (PCs) has significantly changed our world during the past three decades. Computers, once restricted to use by corporations or government agencies, became accessible for use in the home.
This expansion and availability of PCs spurred the 1993 National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR), which was launched during the Clinton administration to review and reform how the government delivered services in the 21st century. It is through the NPR that government agencies redesigned their processes, enabling basic tasks—such as electronic benefits transfer, access to government information, creation of a national law enforcement network, and filing taxes—to go from lengthy in-person processes to simpler online processes.
From these humble beginnings, government services at all levels have drastically evolved. Today, almost all services handled by government can be accessed and completed online.
While this level of access is a great step toward bringing the government closer to its constituents, it is not without significant flaws. These flaws include government employees failing to adhere to policies and procedures or not receiving proper training, both of which can lead to compromised network systems. There is also a lack of proper funding for technology, security upgrades, and initiatives to protect systems from cyberattack, resulting in potentially large breaches of improperly secured information.
Government Failing to Keep Up with Technology
One of the earliest cyberattack “hacks” against government took place in 1983 against the Los Alamos National Laboratory by a hacker group called “The 414s.” The 414s were six teenagers who became some of the first “famous” hackers. Part of their fame has been attributed to the same-year release of WarGames, a film about a teenager nearly launching World War III by unknowingly hacking into North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Unfortunately, the government was forced to play catch-up, as there was no federal law in place to prosecute such computer crimes. It was not until 1986 that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was passed. Legislation continues to struggle to keep up with technology. While numerous amendments have been made to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act over the past 30 years, it has not been enough to deter hackers, hacktivists, phishers, scammers, nation-states, and many others from committing acts of cyberattack and cybercrime.
About the Author: Dr. Harry Cooper is an instructor in the STEM school at American Military University, focusing on cybersecurity and information technology with experience in both academics and as a practitioner. Dr. Cooper has taught at various colleges and universities on a wide range of technology topics. Before entering academia, Dr. Cooper served as CEO/partner for Thimbleweed Consulting and TWC Security. Dr. Cooper received his D.Sc. in Cybersecurity from Capitol Technology University, where his research focused on the Mosaic Theory of Intelligence, its role in today’s society, and how it has become available to most average users. He also completed his M.S. in cybersecurity, intelligence, and forensics at Utica College and his B.A. in political science at the University of Pittsburgh. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.