If you happened to be a criminal and wanted, for example, to rob a shop, you probably wouldn’t choose to do so in broad daylight when security guards were deployed outside.
Remaining with the same analogy for a moment, identical logic applies to cyber-criminals.
The just-ending US government shutdown is a great opportunity for them because, in a manner of speaking, the security guards are off sick, there’s nobody manning the CCTV cameras, and the last one to leave forgot to set the alarm.
Of course the government shutdown doesn’t mean that all of America’s IT security staff have left the systems unattended. A federal shutdown doesn’t impact staff involved with national security, but Steven VanRoekel, the federal Chief Information Officer, has been quoted as saying that cyber security teams are running with only a “skeleton” crew.
This takes us neatly back to our original analogy. As VanRoekel said, in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, hackers looking for a chance would be better off “poking at infrastructure when there are fewer people looking at it.”
As each government agency is individually responsible for deciding which staff are considered exempt from the shutdown, it’s hard to assess just how many IT security staff are currently off work with their eyes away from security logs and new vulnerabilities.
However, some assessments, including one from the Director of National Intelligence, assume that up to 70% of staff working in government intelligence are currently away from their posts. If the US government think they can manage with such a skeleton crew when it comes to national security, it’s fair to assume that systems running less vital functions are being left even more under-staffed.
Even the US government web presence has been affected. National Park websites, such as the one providing information on Yosemite Park, were closed completely for the duration of the shutdown.
Although it looks the Democrats and Republicans have come to an agreement to end the crisis, it’s fair to say that robbing that shop must seem a whole lot more tempting when the security guards are all at home in front of the TV.