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Warner sounds alarm about cyber threats posed during shutdown

mark warnerU.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) is voicing concerns about potential cyber threats posed as a result of the government shutdown.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Sen. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, reiterated the risk of not having a coordinated strategy to combat these threats, and asked Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen for information to better understand the shutdown’s toll on our national security.   

“As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am reminded on a daily basis of the threats that our nation faces. I have time and again sought to sound the alarm about our nation’s lack of a coordinated cyber strategy, and about our being unprepared to fully protect against and deter these attacks. That is true today more than ever,” said Sen. Warner. “One of the many areas where this unnecessary shutdown had dramatic consequences on our nation’s ability to defend against cyber-based threats. These threats come from a range of malicious actors, are constantly evolving, and are unrelenting.”

According to DHS, 43 percent of the agency’s employees were sent home during the 35-day government shutdown. As a result of this decrease in capacity, the Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) was forced to suspend crucial efforts to protect our cybersecurity and infrastructure. Also hindered was the FBI’s ability to conduct cyber investigations. Some agents reported lacking the funds to pay their confidential human sources, therefore losing critical information and irreplaceable sources.

Additionally, the shutdown interrupted the service of many government websites. Reports indicate that more than 130 government websites had their security certificates expire, in many cases rendering these websites unreachable to the public.

“Long term, the effect is an undermining of public trust in the competence and security of federal websites and online service,” continued Sen. Warner. “These data points are but examples, which taken together paint a troubling picture of the state of our nation’s cyber defenses through the shutdown. The troubling reality however, is that with our Federal employees just returning to work, we can only now begin a full accounting of the impact it has had on our nation’s security.”

According to a Vrge Analytics survey released in conjunction with the State of the Net conference, 63 percent of Americans consider threats to their online security and privacy a more urgent problem to solve than the long-term challenge of border security.

Sen. Warner posed a series of questions to the Secretary of Homeland Security to try to gauge the impact of the shutdown on U.S. cyber defenses. Among other questions, he inquired about any upticks in attempted attacks during the shutdown, about plans in place for the resumption of work, and about any measures being taken to address issues with high-tech workforce retention. He also requested information on the number of cyber workers furloughed during the shutdown and the amount of time it will take for suspended cybersecurity related contracts to be renewed.