5 Ways Security Can Help Agencies Achieve Mission Success
At Government Executive’s recent webcast, government and industry leaders offered recommendations for agencies to address the security challenges heightened by the pandemic. Here’s what they had to say.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of challenges for government agencies and the citizens they serve. Aside from the obvious health impacts, the virus has also spurred financial hardships for small businesses and increased government spending for agencies that are already on a tight budget. But when it comes to cybersecurity, COVID-19 didn’t create the problem — it just revealed it. And now that many agencies are aware of the increasing cyber risks, they can address them accordingly — with a little help from experts.
At Government Executive’s recent webcast, “On the Edge: Securing the Technology of the Future,” government and industry leaders gathered virtually to offer recommendations and best practices for agencies working to address these challenges. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Security Is All About the Mission
In the world of cybersecurity, agencies often equate achieving regulatory compliance with achieving security success. But John Simms, senior technical advisor at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, warns that this kind of vernacular can be dangerous.
“I think there was always this mentality that compliance is the end-all-be-all,” he explained during the webcast. “And what we’ve seen is that compliance doesn’t always provide the security that you need to protect your applications and your data.”
Instead of focusing solely on security standards and policies, agencies should consider how better security can enhance their mission.
“As a security professional, you have to understand how you’re going to help accomplish the mission in a highly secure manner, rather than implementing security for security’s sake,” Brandon Pearce, area vice president of cybersecurity at AT&T, said at the event. “Blind adherence to standards wasn’t intended as part of the risk management framework, but properly applied, those standards are guardrails — not speed bumps — to the mission.
2. There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Government Security
The good news is that government agencies are already set up for cybersecurity success. Thanks to guidance like CISA’s Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) initiative, an effort to reduce the .gov’s attack surface by establishing controlled and monitored internet connections. While the initiative was launched in 2007, its most recent iteration —TIC 3.0 — makes it easier for agencies to migrate to secure cloud environments.
“This comes at an opportune time to allow greater agency options for the remote work required today,” Pearce explained. “COVID-19 pushed out the effective boundary of agency networks, connecting more devices. And we’ve seen this drive demand for additional wired and wireless services, as agencies continue to move workers from the office to home.”
One of Pearce’s main takeaways from TIC 3.0 is that there’s no right way to make remote operations secure. Each agency’s unique set of circumstances will dictate how they embrace cybersecurity initiatives.
“As I look at TIC 3.0 standards, I see a good foundation for options,” he said. “Agency security staff that can tailor those options will be positioned to accomplish their mission in a highly secure manner.”
This “pick-and-choose” methodology was intentional: The idea is that TIC 3.0 allows for each agency’s unique needs by serving more as a menu of options than a one-size-fits-all approach to cybersecurity.
“The security capabilities [of TIC 3.0] are not all required,” said Simms, who played a role in creating the guidance. “It’s a catalog that can be used to cherry-pick the appropriate capabilities that are necessary to protect your environment and establish visibility."
3. Improving Cybersecurity Must Start at the Top
While each agency’s cybersecurity strategy may differ, there are steps the government at-large can take to further streamline these efforts. Mark Montgomery, executive director of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, has thought in depth about how government and industry can work together to achieve more security standards and practices. Established as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the commission is composed of 14 members from diverse professional backgrounds, including representatives from the executive and legislative branches, as well as the private sector. Montgomery and his colleagues are tasked with developing strategic approaches to defending national critical infrastructure from consequential cyber-attacks.
In March, the CSC published a series of recommendations to enable a more effective national cybersecurity strategy. Among these recommendations was a push for a national leader to tackle cybersecurity challenges and threats.
“[We must ensure] the U.S. is positioned to prevent a crisis induced by a significant cyber-attack,” Montgomery said at the event. “We need strategic leadership and coordination, both domestically and internationally.”
CSC is currently working with lawmakers to establish a national cyber director position. This position, Montgomery explained, would prioritize security at the top and ensure the government is prepared to navigate these uncharted waters.
“If you have, say, the loss of a Northeast power grid or significant water or power distribution issue, this is the person that would help ensure necessary continuity and economic planning,” he said.
4. Technology Won’t Solve Cybercrime — but It Can Help Mitigate It
As agencies look to adopt tools and policies that can position them to best tackle future cyberthreats, there are several tools that government agencies can leverage to improve their security posture. While it can be tempting to procure a quick fix, Pearce advises public sector organizations to weigh their options wisely and consider how their work environments are changing before adopting a solution—and to remember that there’s no cure-all for cyberthreats. Government agencies need a multi-faceted approach to minimizing vulnerabilities.
“In the long term, technology alone won’t solve a problem like cybercrime, but it can help,” he explained. “You’re not going to eliminate criminal behavior, whether if it’s on the street or on the web, but you can help reduce its impact by having proper security structures in place.”
5. Understanding the Risks — And Rewards — of Emerging Technologies
Of course, technology also comes with some risks. As new and emerging technology like 5G and IoT enter the government space, agencies need to ensure they are reaping the benefits of this technology — while also understanding its impact on operations.
Because 5G will enable the use of more devices, it will, by definition, increase a network’s attack surface, Pearce added. Understanding the challenges — and knowing how to mitigate them — will be critical to government security moving forward.
“5G standards address known 4G vulnerabilities, and 5G networks are being architected to be highly secure, but businesses and agencies still have to prepare for cyber threats,” Pearce said. “Understanding what inventory is on your network and which policies you can implement to keep it secure will be key to success.”
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This content is made possible by our sponsor AT&T; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of GovExec's editorial staff.