Government contractors are in a difficult position when it comes to cybersecurity. Not only do they need to worry about cybersecurity issues that affect almost every company, but they also often house sensitive government data that can carry additional obligations.
Further, the very fact that they have access to this information, and their relationship to the U.S. government, makes them an attractive target for malicious efforts. Escalating these concerns, not only are contractors with sensitive information prime targets for standard hackers trying to prove their worth, but they are also in the cross-hairs for attacks sponsored by countries hostile to the United States or interested in obtaining technology otherwise prohibited to them.
The U.S. government recognizes this threat and has responded in two major ways. The first is to impose additional cybersecurity responsibilities on contractors who have access to sensitive data. While the goal of these additional obligations is to harden security to protect data, their parameters are not always apparent and can be easily misunderstood. Just identifying what a contractor is expected to do can be a challenge. The second element of the government’s approach is to assist in combating cyber attacks by offering to work with companies, including contractors, who find themselves victims. This help can be invaluable, especially for sophisticated and persistent state-sponsored cyber threats. It also raises additional issues, however, and many companies are justifiably suspicious of opening their information technology systems to the government.
In this Commentary, we highlight the aligned and competing priorities of the government and companies in this space. We discuss some of the main requirements imposed on contractors that go above and beyond those required of standard companies. We also delve into practical considerations for government contractors in this area and developing trends.
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