Illuminated San Francisco City Hall showing ransomware attacks on public sector agencies

Key Steps for Public Sector Agencies To Defend Against Ransomware Attacks

Over the past two years, the pandemic has fundamentally altered the business world and the modern work environment, leaving organizations scrambling to maintain productivity and keep operational efficiency intact while securing the flow of data across different networks (home and office). While this scenario has undoubtedly created new problems for businesses in terms of keeping sensitive data and IP safe, the “WFH shift” has opened up even greater risks and threat vectors for the US public sector.

Federal, state, local governments, education, healthcare, finance, and nonprofit organizations are all facing privacy and cybersecurity challenges the likes of which they’ve never seen before. Since March 2020, there’s been an astounding increase in the number of cyberattacks, high-profile ransomware incidents, and government security shortfalls. There are many more that go undetected or unreported. This is in part due to employees now accessing their computers and organization resources/applications from everywhere but the office, which is opening up new security threats for CISOs and IT teams.

Cyberthreats are expected to grow exponentially this year, particularly as the world faces geopolitical upheaval and international cyberwarfare. Whether it’s a smaller municipality or a local school system, no target is too small these days, and everyone is under attack due to bad actors now having more access to sophisticated automation tools.

The US public sector must be prepared to meet these new challenges and focus on shoring up vulnerable and critical technology infrastructures while implementing new cybersecurity and backup solutions that secure sensitive data.

Previous cyber protection challenges

As data volumes grow and methods of access change, safeguarding US public sector data, applications, and systems involves addressing complex and often competing considerations. Government agencies have focused on securing a perimeter around their networks, however, with a mobile workforce combined with the increase in devices, endpoints, and sophisticated threats, data is still extremely vulnerable. Hence the massive shift towards a Zero Trust model.

Today, there is an over-reliance on legacy and poorly integrated IT systems, leaving troves of hypersensitive constituent data vulnerable; government agencies have become increasingly appealing targets for cybercriminals. Many agencies still rely on outdated five-decade-old technology infrastructure and deal with a multitude of systems that need to interact with each other, which makes it even more challenging to lock down these systems. Critical infrastructure industries have more budget restraints than ever; they need flexible and affordable solutions to maintain business continuity and protect against system loss.

Protecting your organization’s data assets

The private sector, which owns and operates most US critical infrastructure, will continue being instrumental in helping government organizations (of all sizes) modernize their cyber defenses. The US continues to make strides in creating specific efforts that encourage cyber resilience and counter these emerging threats.

Agencies and US data centers must focus on solutions that attest to data protection frameworks like HIPAA, CJIS, NIST 800-171 first and then develop several key pillars for data protection built around the Zero Trust concept. This includes safety (ensuring organizational data, applications, and systems are always available), accessibility (allowing employees to access critical data anytime and anywhere), and privacy and authenticity (control who has access to your organization’s digital assets).

New cloud-based data backup, protection and cybersecurity solutions that are compliant to the appropriate frameworks and certified will enable agencies to maximize operational uptime, reduce the threat of ransomware, and ensure the highest levels of data security possible across all public sector computing environments.

Conclusion

First and foremost, the public sector and US data centers must prioritize using compliant and certified services to ensure that specific criteria are met. This will enable them to become cyber fit and protect the devices in the office and at the edge and endpoints against any potential threats or attacks. Finally, information security owners and managers also need to look to new solutions that can take a multilayered approach to serve the broader cyber protection needs of the most sensitive government agencies. These new tools can provide the necessary support for some of the oldest legacy systems while assisting agencies along their IT modernization journeys.

Public sector agencies, many of whom do not use IT services or lack sufficient in-house support, should also look to the vast benefits that come from working with an MSP. Collaborating with an MSP can be faster than building a team from scratch and help achieve growth while enhancing an organization’s defense capabilities. Overall, having dedicated MSP cybersecurity services expertise can reduce costs related to hiring and training while also allowing agencies to stay up to date on the latest trends and cyberthreats.

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Looking ahead, agencies need to ensure they have the right future-proofing tools that can reduce vulnerabilities within their cyber postures, which will allow them to become much more adept at navigating an ever-changing threat landscape.