Recent and well publicized cyber attacks are damaging, costly, and have the potential to deprive communities of essential services, but stopping them poses significant challenges.
Local government CISOs and IT departments face pressures from all sides: on the one hand, citizens are demanding digital services and frictionless online experiences, but on the other, government leaders want to reduce risk within the IT infrastructure, and face increasingly stringent data security compliance requirements. Moreover, limited budgets are always a reality.
Today’s cybercriminals are savvy and well aware that local governments hold massive amounts of data. They’re readily equipped to exploit that data’s value, whether by selling it on the dark web, or through extortionary tactics like ransomware attacks.
As local governments and municipalities are called upon to deliver services more efficiently, they’re quickly expanding their technology infrastructures and the number of services they offer online. This means that their IT environments are growing rapidly and their complexity is skyrocketing. It also means that governments are collecting, storing, and transmitting ever-increasing amounts of sensitive data from their citizens.
Growing Cybersecurity Challenges
With these increasing services comes infrastructure sprawl and complexity. Many local governments now offer services via mobile or web applications, and a growing percentage of government organizations are turning to cloud-enabled storage or computing solutions. But, this IT modernization brings challenges: IT infrastructures are increasingly distributed and heterogeneous, and attack surfaces correspondingly larger. At the same time, IT departments struggle to maintain visibility and control in these diverse environments.
In many ways, this creates the perfect storm for adversaries, and local governments’ capacities for defense, response, and remediation are not always growing to keep pace with the size of the threat, due to some key challenges:
Breaking Down Silos
The agencies and departments comprising local governments often have highly-segregated organizational structures. This can make it difficult to develop centralized and consistent cybersecurity programs and standards, and implement them throughout the whole of the organization. Simply put, silos don’t lend themselves to efficient collaboration. But stakeholders throughout all parts and segments of local government organizations must come together in support of a stronger cybersecurity posture—including greater awareness of the problem and better employee education—if there is to be real change.
Taxpayer-funded organizations like municipalities and local governments often have extremely limited resources. It’s not uncommon for them to operate with legacy hardware or software, and a lack of technical security controls. In the current job market, cybersecurity talent is hard to come by, and salaries are high.
Ransomware is Top of Mind
The attacks on multiple cities, local governments, and education systems serve as a reminder that ransomware is not going away, but instead continues to pose a serious threat going forward. Ransomware attacks continue to move away from mass-volume, opportunistic attacks to more targeted attacks on organizations, which are perceived as having either the ability or the incentive to pay ransoms. In some instances, cybercriminals have conducted considerable reconnaissance before deploying their ransomware on carefully selected systems to maximize opportunity.
Regardless of the vector, as our latest Threat Landscape Report shows, ransomware continues to pose a serious threat for organizations going forward, serving as a reminder of the importance of prioritizing patching and infosecurity awareness education.
What’s Needed: Simpler Security Solutions
In order for local governments and municipalities to continue their digital transformation initiatives without compromising on security, it’s imperative that CISOs identify and deploy the security solutions that will enable them to make the best use of their limited resources. Not only must they compare the purchase and implementation costs of the technologies they’re considering, but it’s vital that they consider the management and administrative burden they would impose as well.
A consolidated, end-to-end solution offers significant advantages over an assortment of disparate point products. When local government IT departments adopt a fabric approach, it becomes easier to deploy and administer. If all components in the infrastructure can be managed through a central pane-of-glass interface, labor hours are much reduced, and costs will be a great deal lower.
In addition, integrated solutions are more effective, reducing overall risks. When devices are capable of sharing intelligence and taking automated action in response to threats, no component of the IT environment remains an island. Comprehensive solutions enable more seamless coverage, better visibility, and automated compliance reporting.