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Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday it is awarding a $1.03 billion contract to Booz Allen Hamilton to boost cybersecurity vulnerability detection and mitigation in six federal agencies.

Why it matters: Almost 75% of agencies are vulnerable to cyberattacks because they don’t understand their risk, the Office of Management and Budget found earlier this year.

This is not Booz Allen’s first go at boosting government agencies’ cybersecurity — the consultancy has been working with the government-wide project under which this award falls for over 5 years.

  • Booz also won a multi-million dollar contract in May for seven other agencies under the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) project.
  • Scope: Including both contracts, Booz Allen now secures “nearly 80% of the .gov enterprise, including 4.1 million network addressable devices, more than 1.75 million users, over 19,700 sites, and 89 individual Federal organizations,” per the announcement.

The details:

  • On this contract: Booz is now locked in for the next 6 years working with the General Services Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Social Security Administration, the Treasury Department, and the U.S. Postal Service.
  • The earlier contract covered the Executive Office of the President and the Office of Personnel Management, as well as the departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs, Interior, Transportation, and Agriculture.

How it works: Agencies install network sensors to analyze cybersecurity gaps to help prioritize them. This can include anything from finding out which systems are un-patched to managing cloud security to access privileges to where data is flowing.

  • At a macro level, the goal is to allow the federal government to assess trends in cybersecurity risk across agencies. At a smaller scale, the aim is to help fulfill Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) mandates.

What to expect: The need for cybersecurity risk assessments is only going to grow, since information technology and cybersecurity are evolving fast, leaving agencies playing catchup.

  • “We can't predict what’s going to be here in 6 years as the threats evolve,” Rob Allegar, a Booz Allen Vice President and lead for the firm’s work on the project, told Axios. “And if you look at where IT is going across many of these agencies, the agencies are not static” as they “move to the cloud, move to a mobile workforce…all of these things are going to require different IT systems” with different risks.

Go deeper

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Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

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COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.