Today’s crime-fighters need IT skills.
But the FBI faces recruitment and retention challenges because the private sector usually offers higher salaries and typically has a less extensive background investigation process. A new audit report by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found this and other obstacles are blocking the Federal Bureau of Investigation from fully implementing its Next Generation Cyber Initiative.
As a result, computer scientist positions within the bureau remain unfilled, according to the report.
The FBI’s Next Gen initiative is a multiyear strategy focused on cyber intrusions, with an emphasis on predicting and preventing cyber attacks rather than reacting to online assaults. The FBI budgeted more than $300 million for the initiative in fiscal year 2014, including funding for about 1,300 full-time positions, the OIG reported.
Cyber crimes include hacks, data theft, botnets, denial of service attacks and other threats, which are evolving as quickly as technology is developed and distributed to a global market.
FBI Director James B. Comey has likened the challenge of combating cyber threats to the situation faced by law enforcement agencies during the 1920s and 1930s when criminals gained access to automobiles and an extended road network.
As it did almost a century ago, new technology is expanding the territory where criminals can cause harm while making it more difficult for law enforcement to bring them to justice.
In the past year alone, major cyber intrusions have included the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which federal officials blamed on North Korea, and the computer breach of the U.S. government’s personnel management agency, which exposed the records of an estimated 22 million people.
The Office of the Inspector General’s audit highlighted several areas of focus for the FBI, including: hiring and retaining skilled and qualified cybersecurity professionals; boosting participation of local and state law enforcement agencies and other partners on Cyber Task Forces; and broadening collaboration and information sharing with private-sector organizations.
“We believe that the FBI needs to address these challenges to most effectively identify and address emerging cyber intrusion threats,” the July 2015 report noted.
Concerns over cyber attacks are driving employment opportunities for cyber defenders in the public and private sectors, with federal statistics projecting a 37% increase in jobs for information security analysts between 2012 and 2022. A 2014 report by Cisco estimated that almost 1 million additional cybersecurity professionals are needed worldwide.
The OIG audit noted the FBI’s use of incentives to bolster its supply of cyber professionals, including through reimbursement for continuing education and repayment of student loans.
In a written response to the Inspector General’s recommendations, the FBI said it would “continue to develop creative strategies for recruiting, hiring, and retaining highly skilled cyber professionals.”