Jun 25 2021

The Best Ways to Elevate State and Local Government Resilience in 2021

Cybersecurity, integrated cloud strategy and a focus on closing the digital divide can help agencies withstand future shocks.

Last April, as the coronavirus pandemic started to surge, a Center for State and Local Government Excellence survey noted the highest percentage of state and local government employees eligible for telework in history. Sudden disruption and an unexpected move to remote work generated flexibility, agility and eagerness to meet new challenges.

While governments have become more resilient overall — optimizing data protection infrastructure and operations, ensuring application availability amidst outages and equipping employees with tools for remote work — they need to keep up the momentum throughout 2021 and build on the advancements of the previous year.

Moving forward, state and local agencies can become more resilient by strengthening their cyber postures, adopting cloud strategies and working toward digital equity, regardless of the next pivot or disaster.

Focus on Cybersecurity Recovery and Protection

As evidenced in FloridaWashington, D.C., and at agencies around the country, municipalities are ripe for cyberattacks, and bad actors are increasingly taking advantage of the shift to remote work. Cybersecurity and data protection must be at the forefront of any resilience strategy.

With state and local employees accessing government information and systems from anywhere, it becomes harder to trust the incoming network traffic. Network-based security alone isn’t enough to stop new threats. A zero-trust approach, strong backup to combat ransomware and built-in security features in all servers and storage are critical elements for cyber resilience.

The zero-trust approach is becoming a standard to harden government networks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology describes zero-trust security as a set of paradigms that “move defenses from static, network-based perimeters to focus on users, assets, and resources.” To get started with zero-trust security, state and local governments can tailor their strategies using NIST’s August 2020 guidance for implementing a zero-trust architecture.

With ransomware attacks increasing in state and local governments, protecting data is also essential. CISOs should always have an immutable and encrypted backup of sensitive data. An offline backup is a critical tool to ensure governments always have an accurate copy of important data and never have to pay hackers’ ransom demands.

Cyber resilience is mission-critical to governments that are connected across platforms, devices and geographies. IT and security professionals should evaluate and select servers and storage with integrated security features that make extensive use of intelligence and automation to help organizations stay ahead of the threat curve.

RELATED: New cybersecurity tools can protect utilities.

Integrate Your Agency’s Cloud Strategy

Cloud computing has been the key to helping state and local governments deliver services both to internal employees and constituents. From safer and smarter cities to more mobile government employees, cloud innovation is helping state and local governments deliver 21st-century citizen and employee experiences around the clock.

In some cases, departments have learned a lot about how to manage cloud efficiently. Many juggled two, three or even four different cloud solutions and providers, with little visibility into their overall cloud resource usage.

Without clear visibility into public cloud use, some departments experience sticker shock when their invoices arrive at the end of the month. Decreased visibility means cloud dollars and human resources may not be spent as effectively.

As state and local governments look to improve their resilience, the flexibility and agility of a cloud operating model allows them to remain mission focused. Hybrid and multi-cloud options provide the right balance of control, flexibility and security. A consistent hybrid cloud approach is not only cost effective but offers the critical business continuity needed by government organizations during both natural and cyber disasters.

EXPLORE: Learn about the technology and approaches needed to quickly enable digital government.

Bridging the Digital Divide Is Crucial

The past year also illuminated equity issues: According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, 3.7 million households lacked regular internet access in fall 2020. Municipal leaders know that inequalities will continue to grow should they not solve the problem now.

As governments worldwide look to rebuild economies and invest in technology infrastructure, enhanced broadband deployment allows communities to close the digital divide by shrinking the gap between constituents who have access to high-speed connectivity and those who don’t.

In the short term, government leaders need to focus on providing Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband to alleviate immediate issues and increase connectivity for activities like telework and remote learning. Still, it’s important to remember these solutions don’t get at the root cause of the digital divide. A plan for long-term resilience that focuses on digital equity will prioritize residential access to high-speed internet to ensure every community is connected for the future.

When we approach the digital divide, we also need to ensure multiuse solutions. While governments focus on building out data connectivity — their strategy needs to focus on safety and security, but it also should deliver better experiences for residents and employees. Don’t only focus on one or the other. This will lead to a higher ROI for communities throughout the country.

This past year, state and local governments navigated major issues, including budget shortfalls, ransomware attacks, public health emergencies and natural disasters. It’s been a challenging time, but state and local governments have proved to be more resilient than ever.

As we turn the page and look ahead, leaders can continue the momentum of resilient government with strong cyber recovery and protection, integrated cloud strategies and connected communities. This will keep governments ready for the next unpredictable event, whether it’s a cyberattack, natural disaster or public health emergency.

MORE FROM STATETECH: How are cities and counties helping school districts get students online?

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