Today’s state and local governments are facing a deluge of increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats. As custodians of vast amounts of sensitive information on their citizens, these institutions are high-value targets for threat actors.
The ongoing digitization of government functions combined with the growing prevalence of advanced cyberattacks has significantly escalated the level of risk these organizations must manage.
What are the most significant cybersecurity challenges for state and local governments?
According to a recent CloudSEK XVigil report, the number of attacks targeting the government sector has increased by 95% in the second half of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021. Most of these attacks targeted government organizations in India, the United States, Indonesia, and China, which accounted for approximately 40% of all incidents. These figures highlight just how critical cybersecurity needs to be for governments. Let’s explore six of the most significant cybersecurity challenges for state and local governments and the solutions they can leverage to mitigate them.:
1. Intrusion into local critical infrastructure:
Local critical infrastructures, such as power grids, water treatment facilities, and transportation networks, are prime targets for cyberattacks. For instance, in 2021, a Florida water treatment facility fell victim to a cyberattack in which the threat actors attempted to poison the local water supply, indicating the grave danger these attacks pose. State and local governments must implement a multi-layered cybersecurity strategy to prevent, detect and stop these attacks. According to a report, most critical infrastructure sectors need to improve MFA, as only 18% of enterprises restrict network access and implement MFA when it comes to remote access to OT networks. In fact, the energy, power generation, and utilities sectors are the most likely to allow full network access without any MFA requirements. Also, to prevent attacks from causing significant damage, governments need to establish advanced threat detection and response systems capable of identifying and neutralizing attacks.
2. Ransomware attacks:
Ransomware attacks pose a significant threat to state and local government institutions. In the second half of 2022, the number of attacks targeting the government sector increased by 95% compared to the same period in 2021. Strategies to combat ransomware include educating staff about phishing emails and other attack vectors, investing in multi-factor authentication, network security and endpoint protection, and maintaining robust data backups.
3. Espionage and data breaches:
State and local governments house sensitive political, economic, and personal information – a data treasure trove for cyber espionage campaigns. Perhaps the most infamous example of this type of threat is the 2015 U.S. Office of Personnel Management data breach, which compromised millions of government employees’ data. Implementing multi-factor authentication, advanced encryption methods, and intrusion detection systems are crucial to mitigate such risks.
4. Supply chain attacks:
In a supply chain attack, adversaries seek to target an organization or group of organizations by first compromising less-secure elements within the IT supply chain. The SolarWinds attack in 2020 demonstrated that even smaller local government entities connected to a compromised supply chain could be affected. It is essential for state and local governments to adopt a layered approach to security across their networks, users, and devices, as well as ensure their partners and suppliers follow stringent cybersecurity practices.
5. Insider threats:
Not all threats come from the outside. Insider threats, both malicious and accidental, can lead to significant security breaches. The prevalence of insider threats peaked to a record high in Q3 2022, accounting for nearly 35% of all unauthorized access incidents. State and local governments can benefit significantly from the zero trust model, as it provides a comprehensive security strategy to protect against a wide range of cyberattacks. Implementing robust access control, conducting regular security audits, and utilizing user behavior analytics can help government organizations manage insider threats.
6. Lack of skilled cybersecurity professionals:
The demand for cybersecurity professionals significantly outweighs the supply, leaving many state and local governments underprepared to deal with increasing cyber threats. Beyond outsourcing to trusted managed security service providers, governments can look to cybersecurity solutions that leverage AI, machine learning, and automation to shore up their defenses. These types of solutions not only improve security efficacy but boost operational efficiency so understaffed security teams can do more with less.
The need for a unified approach to integral security
Government organizations deal with a wide range of cyber threats and must protect sprawling IT infrastructures, often spread across multiple departments. To do so, they need to boost their cybersecurity capabilities by building robust detection, response, reconnaissance, and recovery capabilities.
Attempting to protect these systems with many separate and disparate solutions results in an unusable security infrastructure that misses attacks. This is especially problematic given that government security teams are understaffed and underskilled.
Managing today’s complex security threats is simpler and more effective with a unified platform that offers the level of comprehensive protection, end-to-end visibility, and management ease governments need to reduce the likelihood of falling victim to a cyberattack.
At WatchGuard, we understand the unique security challenges that state and local governments face. To learn more about our unified approach to comprehensive security and the ways our solutions can help state and local governments, visit: https://www.watchguard.com/wgrd-solutions/industries/government