One of the most alarming aspects of a world that continues to evolve with growing technology and networking is the opportunity for digital hacks. While information limited to the individual is probably the easiest to obtain, entire governments have often become hackers' preferred targets. A recent analysis of cyber security's current status shared the scary reality that the government ranks very lowly at 16th out of 18 various industries ranging from health care to retail to financial services. The highlight reel of the analysis indicated where the government could make profound changes for the better and safety of all.

The study generated the analysis for the government and hundreds of other organizations on local, state, or federal levels. Further, researchers determined that the government comes up short in several areas of security and safety maintenance. Some of the government's most significant weaknesses include the active updating of software, replacing aged software, deploying secure software to end-users, and ensuring that the IP addresses are not compromised. While this sounds like an abundance of issues, they are pretty simple to resolve with the right team and solutions.

Typically, governments will adopt newer technologies without full knowledge of its pros and cons. Then, the government fails to monitor these systems as they age. As newer technologies emerge and the government is quick to jump to another platform, a complicated stack of confusing technologies occurs, creating room for havoc. Unfortunately, hackers are all too aware of the government's tendency to operate this way.

In fact, once the sector experienced one of the most devastating breaches of security that could ever be encountered, which was a breach of the US Office of Personnel Management, they officially began to take defense initiatives. However, the progression lacks enthusiasm.

Fortunately, there is undoubtedly still room for improvement. It takes relevant government cyber security services.

It is not surprising to hear that the most money-centric aspects of the sector tend to have the most impressive cyber security restrictions in entities like the Federal Reserve, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the IRS, and the Congressional Budget Office. These are closely followed by weapon and intelligence-based sectors, including the Secret Service and the Defense Logistics Agency.

Nonetheless, government employees can assist in increasing cyber security by changing their passwords often, and restrictions should be put into place requiring such every specific amount of days. There also needs to be improved monitoring of devices that are not protected by a firewall or mistakenly connected to unsecured networks, making the information stored within the entire network vulnerable to attackers.

Going behind the scenes, it is astonishing to learn that much of the information that we would deem to be confidential or protected is easily accessible to threat actors. Even the slightest hiccup, such as connecting to an unsecured network, can give hackers the ability to gain access with little-to-no-effort. In most cases, it only takes a matter of seconds for pertinent, confidential information to become public knowledge or, worse, privately nurtured by an aggressive individual with ill intentions.

It is also evident that the organization's size has little to do with the lack of cyber security: The issue is pervasive. The good news is it only takes specific changes per agency can add up to significant, secure results across the board. The challenge is only how effective legislation can oversee improved security policies moving forward. Cyber security is proactive, not reactive, especially when taking the proper preventative steps can save millions of dollars. Indeed, continued breaches and general criticism are driving change.

Why does the government struggle with cyber security?

The only thing more numerous than the number of agencies that are not adequately equipped with cyber security tools is the number of agencies who don't know the first thing about security software at all. 75% of agencies analyzed admitted that they aren’t equipped with the tools to identify and correct a cyber attack. Only 50% felt they have communicative abilities to relay cyber security threats, and even smaller percentages think they are prepared for any attack, no matter how minor.

So, what's the issue? How could such a well-renowned sector with seemingly millions of dollars to spend be unable to finance something as vital as effective cyber security services? There are a plethora of reasons. Budgeting, lack of knowledgeable staff, and that storm of emerging technologies that confuse are just a few explanations. Until these particular reasons are resolved, government networks continue to be significant targets for cyber security attacks or hacks.

Common types of cyber attacks on governments

If you want to know just how quickly cyber attacks are increasing regarding the U.S. government, just look at the numbers. In only one year, cyber hacks and attacks jumped from just 5,000 to 77,000. Russian hackers accessed State Department emails, defining the worst hack ever to impact a government agency. It is believed that the fingerprints belonging to an estimated 5.6 million Americans were leaked just a few years before this. In the United States, fingerprints are one of the main reasons to link someone to a crime scene. You can only imagine the repercussions and challenges that may arise with millions of unique fingerprints in the hands of threat actors.

Cyber Security Efforts & Challenges

It is believed that, within the next two years, more than 80% of the government’s cyber security efforts that don't expand on a technological basis will neglect to meet their targets. While it's helpful to update older, expensive systems, cloud-based solutions enable technical teams to make more strategic advancements at a more rapid pace.

  • Opportunities to update. Each sector should update internal procedures to ensure public safety. Employees should have the right tools, training, and environment to improve these processes.
  • Innovative security. In this digital era, agencies need to be increasingly aware of the latest advancements and technologies that will enable them to quickly respond and rectify hacks and attacks in a safe manner.
  • Encourage data use. An increase in government transparency will foster cooperation among governments that, when sharing information, can create a robust defense against cyber attackers and hackers.
  • Atmosphere. Governments can kill two birds with one stone by seeking out eco-friendly services and innovative technologies that reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Digital entities. Governmental technologies can help improve the economy by supporting organizations that provide advanced cyber security features such as data protection, safe connectivity, and more.

Professional shortage of cyber security experts

IBM's Security Intelligence identified a "skills gap" as one of the most prominent issues with getting a handle on a government's cyber security. With a lack of skilled staff, nearly 300,000 professional roles for cyber security professionals remain open within the sector. As the government seeks the cream of the crop, processes are lengthier and more intense to hire the right individuals, though they still fall short.

It's easy to see why, in the movies, governmental agencies will often rely on hired help by hackers who "work for themselves" since the agencies struggle so much on their own to find reliable staff. In addition, the shortage of cyber security professionals has grown to 3.5 million, a number that was already a surprise 1 million in 2016. In the meantime, job postings for these same professionals have grown by 74% over the last five years. When calculated against each other, the U.S. will have a continued shortage of cyber security professionals over the next decade.

In comparison, the Indian National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) suggested that India will also have a void amounting to one million for cyber security professionals. As cyber attacks have surged not just in the U.S. but worldwide, the demand for professionals in several additional countries such as India has arisen. Even in India, the number of job openings for highly-skilled cyber security professionals is astronomical. Where can governments go for additional help if the concern is global?

Perhaps what's most damaging, as a result of these cyber attacks, is the tremendous financial loss. It's estimated that, on a global basis, cyber crime will cost our planet 6 trillion U.S. dollars. This estimate encompasses factors well beyond stolen passwords as it includes embezzlement of public dollars, fraud, theft of property or financial data, forensic investigations, and reputation management.

A non-profit for cyber security entitled (ISC)² surveyed thousands of professionals. It provided an analysis of public data, recruitment, training, salary, and technology in the cyber security workforce. Even interviewees for cyber security-related roles expressed concern over the organization's lack of established cyber security professionals. Once employed, more than half of the professionals admit that their companies are currently vulnerable to insufficient cyber security employees.

Government sectors need to continue to brainstorm methods of keeping up with emerging technologies and supporting and training skilled professionals that can adequately provide cyber security services. Public-private partnerships with cyber security professional organizations are ideal since both the private and financial services industries are plagued by the same vulnerability of cyber hacks and attacks.

Former US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew has shared that American financial service organizations had suffered over 250 cyber attacks over the last decade. The release of this news was an effort to motivate the government and its leaders to work together to identify better and punish cyber hackers and attackers. As a result, the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center was formed. The platform coordinates and encourages the sharing of threatening information among businesses and governments.

Motivated hackers can and will steal any data they can access. The profits rise regarding personally identifiable records, social security numbers, criminal records, medical records, and more. Invariably, governments house so much big data, they will always be a significant target. These are tragic examples of a terrifying reality in the U.S. The most substantial course of action that we have in the fight against these attackers is cooperating as nations with data, education, and enlightenment.

The solution

If in need of cyber security services for your organization, look no further than SSI. SSI's highly-skilled professionals are qualified to address governmental cyber security needs. We are fully equipped to create or improve cyber security platforms that minimize security risks and maximize safety measures while contributing to your organization's bottom line.

Our analytical cyber security professionals can create custom solutions and provide impressive deliverables for cyber security and compliance. Further, our 30 years providing government cyber security solutions enable our position to support comprehensive security and ultimate government function.

Reach out to us here for a cyber security quote. Or contact us directly for more information or questions.