TechAmerica said on Wednesday that the hacker group Anonymous launched a cyber attack against it last month to protest its support for the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, just as the group was wrapping up its annual survey of federal chief information officers. And security topped the list of what causes sleepless nights for federal CIOs, according to results released Wednesday.
CIOs also reported ongoing tension between maintaining secure information technology environments and responding to pressures to cut costs. Federal IT spending hit a high of $80 billion on IT in 2010, but that figure is steadily declining. At the same time, reports of cyberattacks as reported to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team hit an all time high of more that 40,000 in fiscal year 2011.
The report, based on off-the-record interviews with 40 CIOs across 35 government agencies, indicated that ordinary threats such as lost computers, unsecured passwords and access to data by government workers who do not need it were more common causes of data breaches than external threats like politically motivated hacker groups and identity thieves.
CIOs also complained that a lack of coordination with other departments leads to confusion about who controls cybersecurity in an organization. IT departments often get short shrift during the background checks and security clearances for hiring, so CIOs are not able to weigh in on a potential hire who might present a cybersecurity risk.
Cost control was listed as the top management priority, yet budget cuts are creating staffing problems for federal CIOs already faced with the challenges of replacing retiring baby boomers and hiring workers with skills in mobile and cloud computing. Pay freezes have lowered morale and made it more difficult to compete with the private sector for talent. This is worsened by limitations on performance bonuses.
"A fundamental premise of the current administration is that reduced budgets, which are a fact in today's fiscal environment, will cause agencies to become more innovative in how they develop and use IT assets," George DelPrete, a principal at Grant Thornton who chaired the TechAmerica report said in a statement.
The survey suggests that budgets cuts do create an opportunity to consolidate redundant or outmoded systems and to cancel unwanted or poorly performing projects. At the same time, when faced with a hypothetical 10 percent budget cut, CIOs preferred across-the-board cuts to trim costs.