IT systems contain invaluable information, so take the right precautions to keep them safe.

Industry tips for minimizing cybersecurity threats

In every sector of the information technology industry, cybersecurity is a significant area of concern. For government agencies, that concern is elevated to a completely different level. It's not just the matter of a single business being affected – government data breaches can affect millions of people, threaten crucial infrastructures and put national defenses at risk. 

Working to protect government agencies from cyberattacks is a serious and stressful business. Fortunately, there are ways that administrators can make the process easier on themselves and to lessen the potential damages that could result from a data hack.

Minimizing damages
According to BBC News, when it comes to cybersecurity, there should be less of a focus on preventing attacks and more emphasis on minimizing the potential damage should a cyberattack occur. 

"It is simply not possible to beat these hackers," said James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Criminals want to make money, and if they find it difficult to get into your network they will move on to another target. Government-backed hackers simply won't give up – they will keep trying until they succeed."

"Keep nonessential information off of the network."

Technologies continue to upgrade security measures and try to keep malicious cybercriminals out, but as the security methods evolve, so do the hacking methods. In regard to preventing a breach from a rival nation, the attempts to breach will be relentless and coordinated. Enemy governments trying to gain U.S. secrets or compromise utilities across the country have the time and resources to keep chipping away until they find a way in that works.

That's why Lewis recommends that agencies instead focus on how to slow hackers down and make it harder to access the right information when they are eventually able to sneak into certain systems.

Rick Holland, a security and risk management analyst at Forrester Research, added many current cybernetworks are "fundamentally insecure." 

"Once an attacker gets into an environment it's like a shopping trolley dash but without the clock – you can just take whatever you like," he said. "What you need is a bulkhead approach like in a ship: if the hull gets breached you can close the bulkhead and limit the damage."

One way the source recommends that agencies limit the damage of an attack is to keep nonessential information off of the network. Confidential or embarrassing information that doesn't need to be shared on an agency's servers should be left off, and only necessary, professional information should be saved, stored or sent through the agency's emails. 

Agencies also need to have security measures in place that will alert them of a breach as soon as it happens. Administrators can't stop hackers from snooping around a network if they aren't aware that an outside source has made its way into the servers in the first place. When a hacker accesses part of a system, agencies need to be alerted so they can shut down parts of the network so that the cybercriminal isn't free to roam through top-secret files. 

"Training staff on best security practices is essential."

How to protect secure information
Encrypting files and using complex passwords are obvious essentials for preventing the unwanted sharing of data, but if the same security keys are being used across the network, they will lose their effectiveness. If a hacker is able to break one secure code, it shouldn't grant free reign to all of a networks records. If  there are different firewalls installed at various points in a network, it will limit how much a person is able to illegally access during a breach. 

Government Technology reported that keeping better tabs on data in general is the first step in keeping it safer, stating that data and personal records alone are enough to be considered a commodity today. Agencies need to know what information they are storing, where it is being stored and the protections that are set up to secure it. 

The source also stated that training staff on best security practices is essential for protecting the safety of an agency's networks and its data. Staff needs to know how to detect a breach and what they can do to stop it. When an issue like this is so time sensitive and needs to be handled swiftly, it's unwise to leave that responsibility on just one or two people. Someone needs to always be on hand who is capable of handling a data crisis the second it hits. 

Working with other agencies and outside IT experts can help any government group find and implement the right security plan for its needs. It can be hard for an agency to take all the right steps alone, but with the help of a company that has industry knowledge on how to stay secure, government groups can help keep their systems safe. 

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