State and local governments face cyberthreats that are expanding at an alarming rate. Since last year, cyberattacks against local governments increased by 70 percent. These attacks impact the security of sensitive data and can also cost millions of dollars — at a time when states and cities are already facing tight budgets. One ransomware attack on Baltimore, Md., last year reportedly cost at least $18 million.
It is an unfortunate fact that the cyberthreat landscape is rapidly growing and evolving alongside state and local governments’ expedited modernization efforts. As a result, government entities today must be aware of every user (whether onsite or remote), every application and every third party that interacts with their IT networks.
Recently, authorities emphasized that managed service providers (MSPs) should be added to the growing list of areas where potential cyber vulnerabilities may lurk for state and local government agencies. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint cybersecurity advisory in May warning that “malicious cyber actors continue to target managed service providers, which can significantly increase downstream risk to the businesses and organizations they support.”
Some state legislatures have taken steps to mitigate the cyber vulnerabilities presented by MSPs. Louisiana was the first state to do so, implementing a law in 2020 requiring MSPs working with the public sector to register with the secretary of state’s office prior to conducting business and to report any cyber incident affecting a public sector organization within 24 hours of incident discovery.
While MSPs are not the only area of concern, their vulnerability is evidence that the cyberthreats state and local governments must protect against are ever-expanding. And no matter how well-intentioned legislation and policies to address these threats may be, the best defense against them is to have complete visibility across an entire IT network that enhances the capability to identify, prevent and even predict networkwide vulnerabilities.
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Identifying Vulnerabilities Requires a Complete View of the Network
Maintaining an effective level of visibility across the entire IT network and endpoints is critical to promoting security and establishing a proactive stance against threats. Vulnerabilities cannot be dealt with without first identifying where they reside.
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To attain this, it is important to develop a baseline level of visibility across an IT network and close any gaps to ensure all endpoints are covered. This is particularly relevant as many state and local governments have incorporated remote work into their IT environments and are making more constituent services available online, which vastly increases the number of users and endpoints to monitor and secure.
This enhanced visibility is also crucial for working with partners and vendors, including MSPs. While there are standards that should be established for each organization in any partnership, heightened visibility can provide state and local governments with additional assurance by increasing awareness of potential network vulnerabilities that must be addressed to maintain security across all endpoints. After all, you can’t protect what you can’t see.
Teamwork Helps Prevent Network Infiltration
Improved visibility enables faster identification of threats and anomalies. Having an organizational structure that supports a rapid response to such events is an essential component.
To optimize implemented visibility tools, it is important to consider how IT teams and data work together so internal and external processes can be streamlined. One way to strengthen IT teams is to break down data and organizational silos. Many organizations often separate data — and teams — based on work, such as NetOps, DevOps, SecOps and more, but a single cohesive team and repository for data is better, not only for visibility but to achieve operational efficiencies. Opening the lines of communication and collaboration allows the team to view data across the organization, identify problems more quickly and make decisions more effectively.
Optimization solutions can also support this by providing state and local governments with better visibility into network and application performance as well as end-user experience. By monitoring network and application optimization, IT teams can troubleshoot problems before anything is affected.
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Automation Can Predict Cyberattacks Through Unified Observability
Once a state or local government has full visibility and has increased optimization to ensure systems are running smoothly, leaders should utilize unified observability to take their cybersecurity posture to the next level. Unified observability builds on visibility to flag anomalies and threats and to offer data analysis and suggestions for resolutions through artificial intelligence and machine learning.
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The addition of AI and ML can streamline the workload of IT teams even further by correlating data streams and alerts and providing actionable insights. This automates workflows for the IT team, providing clear directions to solve problems fast and freeing up time to focus on larger cyberthreats and IT challenges.
State and local governments must be vigilant and constantly monitor their expansive IT networks for cyberthreats and potential vulnerabilities that could compromise sensitive data or the continuity of network operations. Without visibility, state and local agencies are at an increased risk for attacks. But by taking advantage of unified observability and the benefits it provides, state and local governments can successfully pivot from a reactive to proactive cybersecurity posture and gain a significant advantage over internal and external threats of all kinds.