CIOs fear employees, outdated systems

EDITOR's NOTE: This article first appeared on 

Nearly half of government federal IT believe they are better positioned today to defend their IT systems against cyberattacks than they were a year ago, according to a survey by the Professional Services Council and Grant Thornton released Sept. 25.

Cybersecurity was the highest priority listed by the 313 survey respondents, mostly made up of federal CIOs, chief technology officers, chief information security officers and other high-level IT executives. The survey notes that the federal CIO community is currently undergoing turmoil, with no permanent federal CIO, no federal CISO and 13 of 27 federal CIO positions unfilled or filled on an acting basis.

There's been a debate in the federal IT community about whether modernization may lead to new security holes even as it closes others. However, there is little debate about the threat posed by aging IT systems and architecture. Outdated applications and technologies was listed as the top concern.

Following that, CIOs seem to be most worried about their employees.

Human error, malware and phishing attacks all rate high on the worry list -- all threats that are less about technology and more about mistakes or poor cyber hygiene on the part of end users. Despite a steady stream of high-level leaks emanating out of government and the recent WannaCry and Petya attacks, concerns about insider threats and ransomware ranked relatively low at sixth and seventh.

While adoption of cloud computing continues at a steady pace, there are signs that the technology is becoming more deeply embedded into the government's IT infrastructure. While just five percent of CIO's in 2016 rated their cloud capabilities as "mature," 19 percent said the same this time around, and overall half of all CIO's reported having "mature" or "somewhat mature" cloud capabilities.

However, one of the original selling points of moving to the cloud– cost savings – does not appear to be taking hold. Just 24 percent of CIO's agreed with the statement: "cloud services have provided savings and efficiency for my agency." A majority (51 percent) either disagreed with the statement or said the impact has been neutral, with another 25 percent saying they didn't know.

Meanwhile, FedRAMP, the GSA's cloud security authorization program, has seen its reputation improve markedly since last year, when complaints about the sluggish pace of authorization (applicants waited an average of 104 weeks to see their cloud projects authorized) were widespread. FedRAMP officials now say that authorization timelines are down to an average of 14 weeks, citing an embrace of agile development and increased transparency mechanisms throughout the process.

Agile development is fast becoming the new norm, with 56 percent of respondents rating the practice as the default approach to more than half of their IT projects. Just 26 percent said the same a year ago. Respondents typically cited better software quality, faster delivery times and a belief that the process helps to better manage changing priorities.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.

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