The Looming Crisis: cyber attacks on government agencies
From civic awareness to crisis communications, social and digital channels have become one of the most important tools for government organizations at the local and state level. Moreover, these channels are critical enablers of eGovernment, empowering state and local governments to engage with the public in meaningful ways and provide services with greater transparency and efficiency. However, increased digital activity has also increased the risk of cyber attacks on government agencies.
While the benefits of social and digital technologies to the government are indisputable, addressing the government data security is a problem. It is also the case that every agency has potential to suffer cyber security attacks, widespread misinformation, or data loss and compliance violations. The borderless nature of the digital space means greater digital risks for the government and even municipal and state level governments are no longer immune to wider geopolitical conflicts, as cyber security attacks are driven by financial gain. In fact, such entities may even present more lucrative targets for cybercriminals, as the common perception is that state and local organizations have subpar cyber security measures in place.
A holistic government cyber security strategy to cover social and digital channels should embrace a three-pronged approach:
Cyber Security Solutions for Government
March 2018, Atlanta fell victim to one of the costliest cyberattacks on a government agency. The ransomware attack was originally estimated to have reached $2.7 million in recovery efforts, but more recent estimates claim that the disaster could cost taxpayers up to $17 million.3
- No protection against digital risks such as internet attacks cost victims $1.42 billion in 20174
- 53% of InfoSec professionals experienced spear-phishing attacks in 20175
- Hackers use social media as a research tool for targeted phishing attacks6
Government Agencies Are Prime Targets for Social Engineering Attacks
Phishing remains one of the most common digital threats facing the public sector, not least because it’s the main vector for data theft and malicious software infections, like ransomware. Social engineering scams may be waged against the state, local and federal government organizations alike by foreign actors, unscrupulous political opponents or hackers. Given that digital data is now one of the most powerful and valuable commodities on the planet - digital risks for the government are high too. Malevolent actors are using it to command high ransoms, sow public discord, or even influence election outcomes.
Social Media Security for Governments
Email is often considered the main delivery vector for social engineering scams, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore, particularly in the case of targeted attacks launched against specific government officials. Today, social media security for governments is the primary digital risk, with Verizon claiming a 30% success rate of phishing scams launched through social media.7 In these cases, scammers, including foreign actors and cyber criminals, may attempt to dupe officials into surrendering confidential data by masquerading as friends, service providers, or even superiors within an organization. Social media is now the preferred method of cyber attacks on government agencies because individuals share a higher degree of trust with perceived friends and a lower threshold of caution, resulting in data security breach.
Preventing Cyber Security Attacks on Governments
Archiving & Governance
Preserving Information Integrity and ensuring government data security
As state and local governments rely more on social and mobile channels for providing news updates to citizens, the need for Social Media Security for Governments is greater than ever. Archiving content provides a complete legal record, while also offering protection against misinformation campaigns.
How Does Misinformation Affect Social Media Security for Governments?
Automating Archiving to Confront Misinformation at Scale
Archiving & Governance Compliance Monitoring in the Government
Protecting Citizen Privacy
Though government employees are held to a different standard from the rest of the population with regards to what they can and cannot post on social media, it remains a major channel for oversharing as well as for unintentional (and intentional) information leaks.
How Insider Threats Leave Government Agencies Exposed
The fact that the clear majority of cyber attacks succeed because of human error shouldn’t come as a major surprise. Employees are the ones with all the login credentials – they’re the people charged with discretion when it comes to handling private matters. Nonetheless, social media has inured many to clear communication boundaries; and oversharing has become a serious problem for public employees. In the case of government agencies, many information leaks and data loss come from former or even current employees.
Data loss and compliance violations present some of the biggest cyber threats facing government agencies. Aside from deliberately malicious activity, there’s also the constant data security risk because of human error, such as accidentally sending sensitive public data over unsecured channels like public social networks or discussing regulated matters over internal chat applications (i.e., HIPAA, PII) jeopardizing social media security for governments. Similarly, the growing adoption of online payment processing for city and state services also presents the risk of citizens’ financial information being passed through an unsecured channel. Many leaks have had disastrous reputational and legal consequences. Regardless of who or what is to blame, the effects are still the same – data makes its way outside of a government network or privacy protocols are breached, leading to a government data security catastrophe.
Cyber Security Solutions for Government Requires Constant and Customized Surveillance
Every government cyber security strategy starts with a clear definition of access rights and privacy and data security protocols, all of which must be enforced through technological, physical and administrative security measures, as well as ongoing employee training. Agencies need 24/7/365 surveillance to prevent exposure of sensitive data before it’s too late. Recording and eDiscovery are not enough. Compliance monitoring solutions should flag any posts with violations in real time. Policy engines should be ready out of the box for standard regulations (e.g., HIPAA), and customizable to adapt to particular local needs.
Lastly, data-loss prevention and compliance monitoring solutions must balance detection while prioritizing privacy. This approach ensures employee buy-in which leads to a more effective cyber security strategy for the government agency while empowering staff to use social media and other digital channels with confidence.
From faster and more efficient crisis communication to more effective civic engagement, there’s no denying the benefits that digital transformation and social media can bring to state and local government agencies. Social networks and other digital platforms, like internal chat or cloud storage drives, have brought profound change to organizations across all sectors.
As smaller government agencies face increasing pressure to transform digitally, while adhering to an ever-stricter set of security, privacy and compliance demands, it has become more important than ever to implement a cyber security strategy for government agencies that scales with the ever-changing demands of today’s technology landscape. SafeGuard Cyber was developed to empower agencies and other organizations with fully automated cyber security and digital threat protection by detecting threats, mitigating security risks, assuring compliance and facilitating data governance.
We’re proud to protect organizations from national heads of state and their cabinets to smaller American cities. Find out how SafeGuard Cyber can help your government and officials by requesting a demo or free risk assessment today.