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Security in the Age of the Shutdown

Now that we’ve passed the one-month mark of the longest government shutdown in American history, the damage is becoming more urgent by the day. While the effects on the TSA and other airline services are creating real security problems at airports—10 percent of TSA workers are calling out sick—there is another domain increasingly at risk: your laptop.

Or phone, any device, really. Skimping on physical security is bad enough, but cybersecurity is also taking a serious hit, which could have more widespread consequences. As reported by cybercrime journalist Brian Krebs,

The ongoing partial U.S. federal government shutdown is having a tangible, negative impact on cybercrime investigations, according to interviews with federal law enforcement investigators and a report issued this week by a group representing the interests of FBI agents. Even if lawmakers move forward on new proposals to reopen the government, sources say the standoff is likely to have serious repercussions for federal law enforcement agencies for years to come.

Agents in the security divisions are actively looking for new work, unsurprising given that they are approaching the second pay cycle without receiving a check. One security insider told Krebs this shutdown will cost the agency at least five years of lost time and connections. This is particularly worrisome considering there is no end to the shutdown in sight.

Security isn’t the only division suffering. Hundreds of IRS employees are also calling out of work. Though the administration ordered 30,000 employees back to work without pay, many simply cannot spend their days working for free.

Besides being unable to pay informants, Krebs writes that the lack of pay makes agents more susceptible to corruption. The vetting system for FBI agents, for example, is extremely rigorous, with every dollar documented to ensure they do not fall victim to bribery. When not being paid, however, people get desperate.

The shutdown is making the people protecting us more open to extortion from foreign governments. If the gatekeepers are running through the gate, that bodes well for no one.