Uptick in Major Hacking Incidents Sparks 'Priority' Hiring of More Cyber Security Experts

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a new program Monday to prioritize hiring cyber security experts as the U.S. works to address a recent uptick in major hacking incidents that have targeted critical infrastructure and left thousands of businesses reeling.

The department announced the creation of the Cyber Talent Management System (CTMS), which will initially work to recruit professionals for DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer.

The CTMS is designed to speed up a typically slow hiring process and offer professionals higher pay rates. The DHS will initially post 150 "priority" job openings on Monday, and later expand the program to hire experts in various security positions within the department.

"As our Nation continues to face an evolving threat landscape, we cannot rely only on traditional hiring tools to fill mission-critical vacancies," DHS Secretary Mayorkas said in a statement on Monday. "This new system will enable our Department to better compete for cybersecurity professionals and remain agile enough to meet the demands of our critical cybersecurity mission."

The new program could allow the department to hire cybersecurity experts at salaries of up to $255,800, which is equal to the vice president's income. Ahead of the announcement, the DHS said there are currently around 1,500 cybersecurity-related vacancies within the government, of which around 1,000 would likely fit into the new program, The Hill reported.

The latest announcement comes after a combative year for federal cybersecurity, which responded to several major ransomware attacks on U.S. infrastructure such as the Colonial Pipeline and groups including the meat producer JBS USA. The program also comes nearly a year after it was discovered that the Russian spy campaign SolarWinds breached over 18,000 federal government and private computer networks.

Last week, the Justice Department announced a major victory in cybersecurity by issuing charges against two individuals and seizing over $6 million in ransom payments affiliated with the ransomware group REvil. The hacking group was responsible for breaching JBS and attacking a Florida software firm Kaseya.

"The U.S. government will continue to aggressively pursue the entire ransomware ecosystem and increase our nation's resilience to cyberthreats," Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week in announcing the charges.

In total, the White House reported 30,819 information security incidents across the federal government in 2020, marking an 8 percent increase from the year before. Ransomware payments reached over $400 million last year, according to CBS.

Lawmakers have since joined the conversation in hopes of combating the rising threat of ransomware attacks. Last week, North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry, the senior Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, introduced a bill to bar ransom payments above $100,000.

"This bill will help deter, deny, and track down hackers who threaten the financial institutions that make day-to-day economic activity possible. The legislation will also provide long-overdue clarity for financial institutions that look to Congress for rules of the road as ransomware hacks intensify," McHenry said in a statement.

DHS Cyber Security program
The DHS launched a new program Monday to prioritize hiring cyber security experts within the federal government. In this photo illustration, a hacker with an Anonymous mask on his face and a hood on his head uses a computer on December 27, 2019 in Paris, France. Chesnot/Getty Images