These days, government security IT groups no longer hold sole responsibility for their team’s cybersecurity efforts toward network and data protection. Cybersecurity now has visibility all the way up the chain and is a paramount requirement for all cloud migration and digital transformation strategies. But beyond that, strong security can serve as an enabler by giving confidence to an organization that information is being kept safe.
Government agencies today realize that traditional perimeter-based security tools are no longer adequate to protect them from a constantly evolving threat landscape. Especially with the work-from-anywhere environment caused by COVID-19 and adopted by many agencies, there is now too large of an attack surface and too many attack vectors to secure with walls around everything. Rather than attempting to build security around the network, these days the network itself must provide security. Traffic entering the network must be secured from start to finish and security and the network must operate fully integrated as one.
The evolving attack landscape
The world’s fragile state during the COVID crisis opened the door for an aggressive wave of cyberattacks. Ten years ago, on-premises focused government security personnel were able to identify network attacks very quickly, since most took place in the top-level layers of a system, often through a malware attack. These days however, vulnerabilities are exploited over long periods of time, with more massive destruction in mind. Agencies can no longer assume that their network systems will remain safe.
Cyber thieves are also infiltrating through underlying networks, passing from router to router and accessing information located far below a system’s top level. The evolution of these attacks means that government organizations may not be aware of a breach for long periods of time, increasing the amount of harm that can be performed.
Government agencies should update their security strategies to address worst-case scenarios and assume that at some point they will be victims of attack. This means understanding that any single employee may serve as a hacker’s entry to access company systems. Anyone can be fooled by increasingly sophisticated attacks and clicking on a phishing email, resulting in an opening for malicious events.
Focus on analytics and visibility
To address these sophisticated attacks, analytics and visibility are instrumental in strengthening a government agency’s security posture. Analytics and visibility deliver invaluable insights into an organization’s ongoing security status and can help identify critical vulnerabilities previously unseen. While IT leaders traditionally have focused on their organization’s connectivity and security, these days, analytics and visibility are getting their fair share of attention.
The type of information this approach provides can prove vital for the rising number of agencies suffering an attack. The first challenge after a breach attempt has been identified and systems have been shut down is to determine how far cyber thieves have infiltrated before being detected, and what exactly they accessed. This is particularly true in cases of ransomware, where an organization must be able to determine the criminal’s activity on its systems. Hackers may claim they accessed and encrypted five terabytes of data, but a company may be able to see they collected only a handful of files before being shut out. Only with complete visibility will agencies have the information they need to counter a criminal’s claim.
Approaches to strengthen the architecture
Government organizations can strengthen their network architecture against attacks through a number of approaches. For example, zero trust network access (ZTNA) technologies should be a high priority for organizations to limit access to privileged accounts and data left easily accessible, particularly in today’s work-from-anywhere environment in the government sector. Requiring authentication before granting access is an important way an agency can protect its network and keep data secure.
Many organizations need to reassess their infrastructure foundations before additional security approaches can be considered. Integration is critical for strengthening an organization’s network architecture, since many have disparate systems that should ultimately be integrated. Integration will not only simplify systems and their management, it will provide greater accessibility and flexibility. Achieving strong integration will enable agencies to have greater visibility into their systems, making it easier to identity and defend against incoming cyberattacks.
Steps toward a secure future
Approaches such as secure access service edge (SASE) can go a long way toward strengthening an organization’s network architecture. SASE is the integration of security and networking solutions, such as firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) and ZTNA, into a unified service that can be delivered entirely through the cloud. Cloud delivery offers agencies greater flexibility, making it easy to apply security services and consistent policies where they are needed. Secure and seamless transition from the cloud is critical since so many applications are cloud based, including collaborative communications.
Cybersecurity needs to become more of an integrated consideration for every new project. For example, in today’s work-from-anywhere environment, every agency area needs embedded security, even for those remote workers at home. Simply educating home workers about security risks is not enough to protect government networks from malicious attacks.
In today’s world where any organization can be a target for cyberattack, a strongly secured network architecture and end-to-end visibility are the building blocks to a resilient security posture. Enabling a single point of control using approaches such as SASE will help ensure organizations can create a more streamlined and secure network architecture, whether from the headquarters or remote locations. To protect private data and networks, all organizations should work toward a common goal: implementing a business approach that combines the three crucial elements of network architecture, security and visibility.
Ed Elmore is director of Federal Markets at Versa Networks