overnments face an increasingly complex security landscape, with new technology ushering in enormous benefits for citizens, as well as new threats. At the same time, agencies are under greater pressure to protect personal data, resulting in unprecedented investments in information security.
A recent U.S. federal budget proposal, which came into effect in early 2017, increases cyber security spending by 35 percent. This decision is part of a broader White House-led initiative to modernise and protect IT across the public sector, known as the National Cyber Security Action Plan. This plan has led to the establishment of a Commission on Enhancing National Cyber Security and the appointment of a federal chief information security officer.
But how serious is the risk posed to the public sector by data breaches and other cyber threats?
According to estimates, cyber attacks cost the global economy $400 billion each year. Some industries have it worse than others: According to the Brookings Institution, one in four cyber attacks affect health care organisations.
The public sector is another primary target, as evidenced by last year’s attack on the Office of Personnel Management, in which more than 21 million current, former and prospective federal employees’ employment records were hacked.
So how can public-sector organizations – large and small – manage digital risks? Here are five key steps for gauging the cyber security “health” of an organization:
Undertake risk assessment
According to Accenture research, 43 percent of enterprise security professionals believe their company’s brand reputation is most susceptible to attack, while 37 percent feel the same about their customer support business functions.
But every organisation is different, and modern threats can manifest in myriad ways.
To prepare for a cyber attack, government agencies should conduct a risk assessment to determine where they are most vulnerable and what the consequences of such an attack might be. By understanding both the worst and most likely scenarios, governments will be able to engineer defences that address their unique vulnerabilities.
Open dialogue between security experts and business stakeholders is also crucial, to ensure that everyone – across all levels of an agency or organisation – understands how data is utilised and what safeguards exist to keep information secure.
Devise a cyber security strategy
Many organisations have crisis plans in place to help them respond to and mitigate the impact of cyber attacks. But as digital threats become more common and sophisticated, leaders must develop a more proactive approach to data security.
Prioritisation is an important element of any security strategy. Once an agency has conducted a risk assessment, they can build systems that protect what’s most vulnerable and essential. Because breaches can happen at all levels of government, it’s also important for agencies to develop protocols that can be leveraged by federal, state and local officials.
Further adoption of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cyber Security Framework would help provide robust protection for public sector organisations and citizens alike, while also reducing the administrative burden and uncertainty for smaller agencies.
Take an Intelligence-led, Analytics-based Approach
Effective cyber security can no longer rely on a passive “gates and guards” approach and using endpoint detection systems that can only identify known malicious activities. By employing advanced analytics systems that incorporate cyber threat identification and intelligence garnered from suspect behaviour within networks, government agencies will be able to respond swiftly and proactively to digital threats.
Likewise, advanced analytics will empower public sector organisations to effectively use and manage large volumes of data, rather than suffer from data overload. Such an approach will also make it easier to integrate intelligence-led cyber security with new and emerging technologies such as cloud, mobile and social media while protecting confidential data. In fact, half of enterprise security professionals say digital initiatives – including analytics – are critical to data security.
Increase Stakeholder Collaboration
In the digital age, the role of the individual in cyber security has become more important. This is especially true considering the volume of data citizens generate on a daily basis on tablets, smartphones and wearable fitness or health-monitoring devices. Government employees, in particular, need to understand the risks and security protocols when using mobile devices or operating in the cloud.
A recent survey of more than 200 enterprise security professionals showed two-thirds had experienced data theft or corruption within their organisation. Educating employees and citizens about cyber security risks will allow them to play their part in keeping sensitive data safe from threats – internal and external – while building digital trust.
Cross-sector collaboration is also crucial. Governments should build upon existing relationships with peer organisations, academia and the private sector when developing security procedures and systems – particularly in the context of cyber security R&D and intelligence gathering. As the majority of security infrastructure is owned and/or managed by private sector companies, their involvement is essential.
Invest in cyber security talent
No cyber security initiative can succeed without the proper talent to back it up. Unfortunately, many public-sector organisations are finding themselves short on the skills and competencies required to stave off digital threats.
According to Accenture research, 42 percent of enterprise security professionals believe they have an insufficient budget to recruit and train security talent, and 76 percent say they aren’t adequately equipped to conduct threat and vulnerability assessments.
To prepare for the next wave of digital threats, all public-sector leaders must allocate resources to build a strong cyber security team. The federal Cyber Security National Action Plan has already taken steps to address the skills gap through strategic investments ($62 million in 2017) in cyber security education and training, but change must happen on an agency level. Those deterred by the idea of additional spending should consider the potential cost of a data breach.
In today’s data-driven world, a reactive approach to cyber security won’t cut it. By developing a robust, proactive cyber security strategy, government agencies will be better equipped to prepare for, prevent and resolve digital threats into the future.
Ger Daly is Accenture’s managing director for Defence & Public Safety.
Find out more: www.accenture.com