Thought Leadership

Cyber Threats: Does Your Agency Have a Plan to Prevent a Data Breach?

Cloud technology is not a luxury of the future, but a necessity of the present. Many organizations in the public sector are modernizing to cloud-based solutions because of the proven benefits such as efficiency, flexibility, and strategic edge. Operating in the cloud allows users the ability to access data whenever and wherever; but, operating in the cloud is not just about convenience. In extreme cases such as disaster recovery, organizations need to have a space where data can be backed up and stored in a non-physical location. There is also the benefit of scalability and cost savings. Cloud-based technology, usually operating on a pay-as-you-go model, can be scaled up or down based on the organization’s needs at that time.

This digital transformation to operating in the cloud is positively reshaping the public sector, but it also creates a host of new cyber risks. Organizations like police departments can be prime targets for cyber threats because they handle sensitive data. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 16% of cyber security breaches were of public sector entities. Verizon’s research also showed that 47% of public sector security breaches were not discovered until months after the initial attack.

Organizations find themselves vulnerable to attacks due to a number of reasons including outdated IT infrastructure and security systems, lack of security awareness training, or even lack of personnel dedicated to IT. In other cases, organizations may completely lack a cyber risk management plan. With the rise of attacks, and the need for moving to advanced technology, the public sector needs to be aware of the kinds of cyber threats as well as how to prevent and do damage control.

Awareness

A majority of cyber-attacks occur because of a lack of awareness. Agencies often fall prey to both internal threats (malicious or uneducated employees) and external threats (phishing or ransomware). The Institute for Defense and Business outlines five primary methods of cyber-attacks used to target the public sector.

  1. State-Sponsored Cyber-Attacks: Considered as a form of warfare in which one government entity attacks another government entity or agency’s valuable information.
  2. Ransomware: A specific form of malware that completely barricades the user’s ability to access their system until a ransom is paid.
  3. Phishing: Typically disguised through emails, text messages, phone calls, hackers impersonate licensed institutions to obtain valuable information.
  4. Hacktivists: Cybercriminals who hack information and systems as a means of social or political activism.
  5. Improper Usage & Internal Attacks: Employees can be the greatest threat to information security because they have direct access to information. It is important to implement cyber security training on proper usage and handling of technology and information.

Promoting awareness and teaching best practices can make a difference in how well your employees protect the organization’s sensitive data.

Prevention and Minimizing Impact

Tactics to obtain government-sensitive information are enhancing rapidly. Hackers have become more sophisticated than ever—and the public sector must be prepared. The goal is to be proactive and not reactive.

Developing a response plan is critical to data security. Many organizations are moving to the cloud, entrusting data to a third-party provider. This creates a number of fears. How do we manage permissions and access to systems? Where are data centers located? To what degree is the cloud provider responsible for information security? Whether your organization has modernized to the cloud or not, there must be a contingency plan as a response to an attack. Your plan may include:

  • How to recover and secure systems after an attack.
  • How to secure physical areas related to the breach.
  • Notifying those who are affected.
  • How and when to back up data.

Additionally, establishing or enhancing internal cyber security policies and processes is a requirement. Written policies ensure that everyone is aware of what to do in the case of a threat. This includes information such as an acceptable policy use, internet usage policy, and virtual private network (VPN) policy.

Employees can take their own precautions as well to help promote data security by:

  • Reducing data transfers: There is an increase in transferring data between business and personal devices due to remote work. Sharing sensitive data on personal devices increases the risk of cyber-attack.
  • Downloading carefully: Be aware of files, downloads, and attachments from unverified sources.
  • Improving Password Security: Password strength can serve as the gatekeeper to so sensitive information. Additionally, avoid writing down passwords and keeping them in accessible places.
  • Updating Device Software: Software updates tend to come with improved methods of data security. Regularly installing verified and licensed updates can improve your device’s ability to detect threats.

The costs of a data breach can extend months to years past the initial attack. A breach can include lost information, legal liability, business disruption, and lost revenue. In order to minimize the impact of a threat, organizations must respond quickly to restore operations.

Preparation gives your organization the advantage to be able to move quickly and efficiently in the case of a threat.

You cannot control when or how a cyber-attack will occur; however, you can ensure that your organization implements the right practices to minimize impact.