Shutting Down Government Websites Is No Small Endeavor

Many Federal government websites are dark because of the shutdown. But not operating the sites could come at a cost.

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One of the side effects of the government shutdown is the closure of many federal websites. The big ones, like the IRS and the White House, are still up and running. But there are others that have shut down, such as those of NASA or the Library of Congress. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports that while shutting the sites is likely to save money in the short run, it could create hassles down the road.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: What could be more fun than surfing government websites? Well, just about everything. But some government websites are more fun than others. Lance Ulanoff is with mashable.com. He says one of the best website's on the Net, government or otherwise, is NASA's.

LANCE ULANOFF: That's a really rich site complete with live video, right? There' s a live video feed. So that takes a lot of people to run.

GLINTON: Ulanoff says not for nothing, but when you're giving viewers that kind of rich content, it costs big money.

ULANOFF: So if you're not doing of that, if you don't have people maintaining the site, writing short posts, taking pictures and posting them, updating video, doing live video, then you're probably saving a large chunk of money.

GLINTON: NASA's not the only one. When you go to some of the other sites, they're not necessarily completely down. The pages still exist, but you get a message like this: Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience.

CHESTER WIZNESKI: They took effort to put up a message saying you can't have the service, and it's probably taken more effort to do that than it would to continue to provide the service because humans are largely not involved.

GLINTON: Chester Wizneski is a security adviser with Sophos. It's a company that makes computer security hardware and software like antivirus or encryption. He says pulling the sites offline may be saving money, but that took a lot of effort, and it could be inviting a security risk.

WIZNESKI: I would argue they're more hackable now that they've shut them down than they were when they were operating because, once again, we've taken an emergency measure in order to do something out of the ordinary, and I highly doubt that these outage notifications and pages have been properly tested.

STEVE SANTORELLI: I think the jury is pretty much still out on whether the correct course of action is to disable these websites, temporarily take them offline or leave them online.

GLINTON: Steve Santorelli, formerly of Scotland Yard, now works with the Team Cymru, an Internet security firm. He says the sites that are down may not be as high profile or critical to running government or its security.

SANTORELLI: But they're going to have less scrutiny over their logs. There's technical people actually reviewing things on the daily basis to make sure that nothing suspicious is actually caught.

GLINTON: He points that the last time there was a government shutdown, the Web was in its infancy so there is no precedent for this Web-wise.

SANTORELLI: The reality is there's a lot of things that will be going on that could be security events, but they aren't necessarily what we call security incidents. They are anomalous behavior that needs to be reviewed to make sure that it isn't, in fact, an attempt by a criminal hacker to breach the system.

GLINTON: Santorelli says these websites just sitting there on the Net are targets. And the longer they're down, the more tempting they become. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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