Staying Vigilant: Strengthening Cybersecurity in Local Government
By Karthikeyan Kumaran
Published October 2, 2023
Cybersecurity is always an important concern. However, it has become a critical factor in increasingly digitized world. During Cybersecurity and Awareness Month, attention around the subject becomes heightened, especially for governments that manage vast amounts of citizen information. It’s crucial for local governments and municipalities to reinforce their commitment to safeguarding sensitive data, public services, and the trust of their citizens.
But why do you need a cybersecurity infrastructure? The following statistics provide compelling reasons:
- 58% of local governments are facing ransomware attacks.
- $2.07 million is the average ransom demand.
Since the pandemic, the number of average weekly attacks in Government and public services sector has grown over 20% YoY, with Healthcare sector following a close second.
Cyber threats on critical infrastructure are predicted to grow to the same scale as today’s energy and living costs, as well as those impacting and the food supply chain for this year and the next.
In our recent newsletter, we touched on the three pillars of cybersecurity (our next issue will focus more on detailed types of cyberattacks and their impacts on local governments).
Governmental cybersecurity requires modernization in two fields: strategy and solution. The key to achieving an efficient strategy and solution lies in focusing on three fundamental pillars of cybersecurity:
- Single Sign-On (SSO)
- promoting the use of stronger passwords, and
- recognizing the ever-present threat of phishing attacks.
Single Sign-On (SSO): Streamlining Access, Fortifying Security
Imagine a world where you only need to remember one key to unlock multiple doors. This world exists in the realm of cybersecurity, and it's known as Single Sign-On (SSO). Local governments and municipalities should consider SSO as a key tactic in their cybersecurity strategy, as it simplifies access while fortifying security both for internal and external stakeholders alike.
- Streamlined Access: One of the primary benefits of SSO is its ability to streamline the login process. With SSO, users can access multiple applications and systems using just one set of credentials. This simplification not only enhances user experience but also reduces friction, making it easier for employees and citizens to interact with government services seamlessly.
- Enhanced Security: SSO also plays a pivotal role in enhancing security. In the absence of SSO, users are often burdened with the task of remembering numerous usernames and passwords. As a result, they may resort to weak passwords or, worse, reuse the same credentials across multiple services. This practice is a goldmine for cybercriminals. SSO eliminates this problem by encouraging users to maintain a single strong set of credentials. This drastically reduces the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.
However, implementing SSO is not without its challenges. Local governments must invest in robust authentication systems and ensure seamless integration with existing applications and services. The initial investment is outweighed by the long-term benefits in terms of convenience and security.
Promoting Stronger Passwords: Empowering Citizens with Knowledge
Citizens are integral stakeholders in the realm of local government cybersecurity. Their actions can either bolster or undermine the security of digital interactions with government services. Promoting the use of stronger passwords is a fundamental step in securing these interactions.
- Education Campaigns: Local governments and municipalities should embark on awareness campaigns to educate residents about the importance of strong passwords. These campaigns can take various forms, including webinars, workshops, and informational materials, and FAQs on government websites. The key message should emphasize the role of strong passwords in safeguarding personal data and government services which increases trust and visibility for residents.
- Password Policies: Enforcing a robust password policy for government services is essential. This policy should encourage users to create complex passwords that include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Additionally, it should require regular password changes to mitigate the risk of unauthorized access.
- Password Managers: Recommending the use of password managers is another crucial step. These tools enable users to generate, store, and manage complex passwords securely. By simplifying the process of creating and managing strong passwords, password managers empower citizens to take control of their online security.
By arming citizens with knowledge and tools, local governments can transform them into active participants in their own cybersecurity. Stronger passwords not only protect individual users but also contribute to the overall security of government systems and data.
Recognizing Phishing: Staying Ahead of Deceptive Threats
Phishing attacks remain a persistent and pervasive threat in the cybersecurity landscape. Local governments and municipalities must equip their employees and citizens with the knowledge to recognize and combat these deceptive tactics effectively.
- Reporting Channels: Establishing clear and accessible channels for reporting suspicious emails or messages is essential. Rapid reporting can be the difference between thwarting a cyberattack and suffering a data breach. Local governments should encourage employees and citizens to report any suspicious communication promptly and establish those channels with 24/7 monitoring.
- Verification Protocols: Encouraging citizens to verify the legitimacy of government communications, especially those requesting sensitive information, is critical. Phishing emails often impersonate government agencies or officials. Citizens should be aware of the steps they can take to confirm the authenticity of such communications, such as contacting the government agency directly through official channels.
By bolstering awareness and vigilance against phishing attacks, local governments can protect their employees and citizens from falling victim to these malicious schemes.
A Call to Action
This Cybersecurity Awareness Month, local governments and municipalities must heed the call to action: Stay Safe and Stay Vigilant. Local governments are increasingly reliant on technology for a wide range of services, from water and power to transportation and communication. This makes them more vulnerable to cyberattacks. But establishing clear protocols, having the right amount of expertise and technology, and constant auditing of the processes will minimize the size of cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity is not an option; it is a necessity. Local governments and municipalities hold the responsibility of safeguarding sensitive data, public services, and the trust of their citizens. By implementing these cybersecurity measures and fostering a culture of awareness and vigilance, you can build a more secure digital environment for your communities. Stay Cyber Safe, Stay Vigilant, and together, let's secure our digital future.