Multiple factors create cybersecurity dangers for federal agencies

The importance of cybersecurity for the federal government cannot be overstated. Every single federal agency, from the CIA to the Department of Agriculture, possesses tremendous amounts of sensitive information that cyberattackers are eager to get their hands on. And while the same could be said of any organization in either the public or private sector, the fact of the matter is that there are a number of key factors which make cybersecurity particularly important, and difficult, for the federal government. Given this situation, agencies should consider partnering with third-party cybersecurity and information assurance firms to better protect themselves from the myriad threats they face.

Tempting targets
The single, most obvious factor highlighting the need for better federal cybersecurity is the high value of the data these organizations hold. All cyberattackers can essentially be classified into one of three categories: cybercriminals seeking profit, state-sponsored actors and hacktivists motivated by an idealistic cause. Unlike private sector firms, the federal government is a frequent target for members of each of these groups.

"FY 2014 saw 70,000 cybersecurity incidents on federal networks."

As a result, cyberattacks targeting federal networks are frequent and accelerating. According to the Office of Management and Budget's annual report, FY 2014 saw 70,000 cybersecurity incidents on federal networks – a 15 percent year-over-year increase, The Hill reported.

"Now more than ever, the federal government needs to fully implement meaningful security programs that can withstand the serious cyber challenges our nation faces today and will face for the foreseeable future," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. "Although some agencies are making significant progress, this report underscores the troubling reality that cyber attacks and intrusions continue to occur at an increasing rate, and agencies need to be better prepared."

Already this year, there have been numerous examples of successful cyberattacks against federal agencies. Perhaps most notably, the State Department was infected by malware, likely delivered by Russia-backed hackers. As time goes on, such attacks are only going to be more frequent and dangerous.

Lax efforts
The OMB report identified a number of key examples of cybersecurity progress, including an increase in continuous monitoring program adoption from 81 percent to 92 percent of all federal agencies, according to The Hill.

"Federal agencies have suffered many preventable cybersecurity-related incidents."

However, this should not distract from another of the key factors that puts federal agencies at risk: widespread lax cybersecurity policies and solutions. The same OMB report found that federal agencies are coming up short in a variety of areas, including user authentication. By failing to design or enforce effective policies, federal agencies have suffered many preventable cybersecurity-related incidents. In fact, the report determined that the majority of these instances either could have been mitigated or were directly caused by weak authentication implementation.

Moving forward
This suggests that bureaucratic, expansive nature of federal government – complete with dozens upon dozens of essentially independent but interconnected agencies – makes it particularly difficult to ensure that employees follow best practices in the realm of cybersecurity, which in turn makes these organizations susceptible to cyberattacks and inadvertent data breaches. Clearly, greater expertise and guidance are essential for agencies to overcome these innate obstacles. 

That's where a third-party cybersecurity and information assurance consulting firm can prove invaluable. For federal agencies to improve their existing practices and simultaneously develop new strategies for warding off future threats, a comprehensive, expert-driven approach is necessary. The right cybersecurity and information assurance service provider can help federal agencies protect their data and operations from the vast number of motivated cyberattackers eager to gain access to their networks.