Government Shutdown Puts U.S. at Major Hacking Risk, Cybersecurity Experts Warn

January 16, 2019, 8:16 PM UTC

While President Donald Trump cites a “security crisis at our southern border” as a reason for the longest government shutdown in American history, cybersecurity experts are warning citizens that the federal freeze has put the U.S. at a significant risk for both short and long-term cyberattacks.

“We have laid out the welcome mat to any and all nefarious actors,” Mike O’Malley, VP of strategy at cloud defense firm Radware, told CBS News Wednesday. “Unfortunately, we know all too well from experience that hackers, especially nation-state sponsored, have a high level of patience and are willing to lie in wait for the most opportune moment to strike.”

Corporate data breaches impacted more than 1 billion Americans in 2018. While hackers stole personal information from Marriott International customers or gained access to Facebook users’ unshared photos in corporate breaches, hacking into government agencies’ security systems could have more nefarious repercussions.

According to O’Malley, a hacking could have the most serious impact on the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, or any other intelligence agency that holds sensitive information that could be compromised in a case of espionage or fraud.

Intelligence agencies are further weakened given the fact that approximately 85% of staff at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and 45% of the Department of Homeland Security’s newly established Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have been furloughed, according to a report from security platform Duo Security.

Experts have expressed this growing concern throughout the shutdown. Last week, former homeland security adviser to Barack Obama told Axios, “Cyber threats don’t operate on Washington’s political timetable, and they don’t stop because of a shutdown.”

Cybersecurity, however, isn’t the only safety concern that has been heightened during the shutdown.

Climate scientists at the National Hurricane Center warned that the shutdown could hinder short and long-term planning for natural disaster relief, conservation groups brought up increased fire risks in California, and the American Geophysical Union told Think Progress that it “would interrupt potentially life-saving information and observations from the scientists” working at various agencies.

Furthermore, more than 51,000 TSA employees have been working at airports without pay since December 22, which has resulted in a 55% increase of workers calling in sick, and the closure of security lanes.