67% of government agencies have increased their financial commitment to digital transformation. Long lines and endless paper documents no longer suffice – citizens now expect public services with less hassle and technology seamlessly embedded. However, this increased reliance on technology makes government agencies and institutions prime targets for cyberattacks – 30% of public sector agencies struggle with outdated technology, leading to increased cybersecurity risk. Understanding the implications of cyberattacks and enhancing cybersecurity measures is vital for protecting public sector entities and the communities they serve.
The Threat of Cyber Attacks
Cyberattacks aim to damage or gain control or access to important documents and systems within a business or personal computer network. These attacks can take various forms, including data breaches, ransomware, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, and more. Cybercriminals use a combination of techniques, such as malware, phishing, and social engineering, to exploit vulnerabilities in the digital infrastructure of organizations. In recent years, ransomware attacks have risen by 92 percent and password attacks have jumped by 74 percent.
Why is the public sector such a valuable target?
When it comes to cybercrime, the scale of an organization rarely matters. Cyber-attacks against state and local governments are increasing and accelerating – even before COVID-19, two-thirds of attacks targeted state and local organizations. But why is the public sector so attractive to cyber criminals?
- Valuable Data: Government agencies often collect and store a vast amount of sensitive data, including citizens’ personal information, financial records, medical data, and classified national security information, making it highly appealing to cybercriminals.
- Limited Resources: The public sector may have limited budgets and resources allocated to cybersecurity, not to mention a cumbersome software patch and update. This leads to outdated security protocols and a lack of staff with cybersecurity expertise.
- High Visibility: Successful cyberattacks on public sector organizations can attract significant media and public attention, making them appealing targets for cybercriminals looking to gain notoriety or influence public opinion.
Recent incidents highlighting the threat:
- Earlier this year, an Ohio county’s local library was paralyzed by a ransomware attack, rendering several vital services unavailable.
- In a 2022 incident, the UK’s Electoral Commission systems were breached, granting unauthorized access to electoral registers used for research and permissibility checks on political donations. These registers contained a treasure trove of data, including voter information spanning from 2014 to 2022.
- Just this month, a ransomware attack targeting multiple healthcare institutions and hospitals in Ontario, Canada, resulted in stolen data being published online, as confirmed by the affected hospitals on Thursday. These incidents underscore the pressing need for enhanced cybersecurity measures in the public sector.
Consequences of Cyber Attacks in the Public Sector
For the same reasons that the public sector is appealing to cyber criminals, the consequences of cyberattacks can be particularly severe. Cyberattacks can disrupt essential public services such as healthcare, transportation, and emergency response systems, jeopardizing the safety and well-being of citizens. Additionally, rebuilding systems, recovering lost data, and addressing the aftermath of a cyberattack can lead to significant financial losses for government agencies.
Public sector entities that fall victim to cyberattacks can suffer a loss of credibility, potentially leading to reduced public trust. When sensitive citizen information, including personal and financial data, is breached, it can lead to identity theft and financial fraud, eroding public trust.
Lastly, depending on the government agency attacked and the amount of information stolen, the attack can compromise national security, potentially exposing classified information and defense strategies.
Typical Cybersecurity Measures and Their Limitations
Government agencies employ various cybersecurity measures to safeguard their digital infrastructure, including firewalls, antivirus software, intrusion detection systems, and employee training. However, just as technology evolved, cyber threats are evolving with it. Traditional cybersecurity measures may not be adequately equipped to detect and prevent sophisticated attacks.
Furthermore, many public sector agencies rely on third-party vendors for services and software, opening yet another door that can be cybercriminals.
Suggesting Better Cybersecurity Measures
In order to mitigate the risks associated with cyberattacks in the public sector, it’s crucial to adopt more robust measures. According to Microsoft’s Digital Defense Report 2023, basic security hygiene protects against a great deal of attacks. The key steps to reinforce this security hygiene are:
- Enabling multifactor authentication (MFA): provides extra resilience for identities.
- Apply Zero-trust principles: No entity, whether inside or outside the organization, should be trusted by default. Access controls should be based on strict verification and authorization.
- Use extended detection and response (XDR) and antimalware: Implement software to detect and automatically block attacks and provide insights to the security operations software.
- Keep the systems up to date: Unpatched and out-of-date systems are a key reason many organizations fall victim to an attack.
- Protect data: Knowing your important data, where it is located, and whether the right defenses are implemented is crucial to implementing the appropriate protection.
However, we need to fill the gap. Knowing where your important data is stored and protecting it is the first step. Removing any unnecessary personal data from your data sets is where you safeguard the remaining percentile.
When you redact personal data that serves no purpose, you proactively strengthen your data security. In the event of a data breach, none of that data is exposed, ensuring it remains beyond the reach of malicious actors.
Surely, the process of data identification and redaction can be demanding, particularly when dealing with unstructured data. Conventional approaches often fall short, being both slow and prone to inaccuracies. Fortunately, technological advancements are on our side. By harnessing the power of AI to identify and remove personal data from your datasets, you can rest assured that the elusive 1% of your data remains safe, even if someone manages to bypass your security safeguards.
Public sector entities are alluring targets for cyberattacks due to the valuable data they store, limited resources, and high visibility. These attacks can disrupt essential services, erode public trust, and compromise sensitive information.
To address these threats, traditional cybersecurity measures are not cutting it. Government agencies should implement robust cybersecurity measures, such as multifactor authentication, zero-trust principles, extended detection and response (XDR), and regular system updates. Additionally, to ensure the protection of personal information – even in the event of a breach – it’s imperative to identify and redact unnecessary personal data.
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