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Study: US reels under shortage of cyber staff

UNITED States federal government agencies are facing a severe shortage of computer specialists, even as a growing wave of coordinated cyber attacks against the government poses potential national security risks, a private study has found.

The study describes a fragmented federal cyber force, where no one is in charge of overall planning and government agencies are "on their own and sometimes working at cross purposes or in competition with one another."

The report, scheduled to be released yesterday, arrives in the wake of a series of cyber attacks this month that shut down some US and South Korean government and financial Websites.

The recruiting and retention of cyber workers is hampered by a cumbersome hiring process, the failure to devise government-wide certification standards, insufficient training and salaries, and a lack of an overall strategy for recruiting and retaining cyber workers, the study said.

"You can't win the cyber war if you don't win the war for talent," said Max Stier, chief of the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based advocacy group. "If we don't have a federal work force capable of meeting the cyber challenge, all of the cyber czars and organizational efforts will be for naught."

The study was drafted by the partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton as the Obama administration struggles to put together a more cohesive strategy to protect US computer networks.

The size of the government's cyber work force is largely unknown, because agencies often classify their employees differently.

While President Barack Obama has declared cyber security a top priority, the White House so far has been unable to fill its new cyber coordinator position - a job regarded as critical.

The study recommends that the yet-unnamed federal cyber coordinator lay out a strategy to meet the government's work force needs, set job classifications, and enhance training.

The federal government's vulnerabilities have been underscored by cyber attacks that breached a high-tech fighter jet program and the electrical grid, although no classified material was compromised.

Earlier this month, unknown hackers knocked several US and South Korean government Websites off line in a widespread and unusually resilient computer attack.

Ron Sanders, chief human capital officer for the national intelligence director's office, said it is difficult to draw a link between work force shortages and the rising cyber threats against the government.


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