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Those who harbor doubts about the Federal Government’s ability to implement complex projects have surely had these beliefs by the recent failed rollout of the Obamacare website – an epic IT disaster if there ever was one.  Now comes further news that confirms – albeit in a less dramatic fashion – that IT is, perhaps, not a core Government strength.

In a publicly released letter “Immediate Opportunities for Strengthening the Nation’s Cyber Security”, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology or (PCAST) hammered the Government’s weak cybersecurity policies.

The PCAST letter points out six core weaknesses. The first one on the list, which pretty much symbolizes how the Federal Government approaches cybersecurity according to PCAST, is worth highlighting: “The Federal Government rarely follows accepted best practices. It needs to lead by example and accelerate its efforts to make routine cyberattacks more difficult by implementing best practices for its own systems.” 

One of the specific recommendations here that really jumps out at is that the Government should phase out unsupported systems – specifically Windows XP – within two years: “Phase out within two years the use of unsupported and insecure operating systems, such as Windows XP, in favor of modern systems, such as current versions of Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.”

As noted in a previous piece, Microsoft has already announced that it will be ending all support for Windows XP in April of next year, and that those who remain on XP after that are taking serious cybersecurity risks.

This raises an obvious question – namely, if XP support will end in four months, why does the PCAST letter recommend a two year XP phase out period for the Federal Government? If my math is correct, this means that any Federal Government systems running on XP would - under the PCAST recommendation - be facing up to 20 months of serious cybersecurity risks.

While statistics for the number of Government systems on XP were not highlighted, one can only assume that the number has got to be substantial if it is at the top of the PCAST recommendation list. Perhaps, therefore, the PCAST recommendation should have been to phase out of XP by April, 2014 rather than within two years?



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