Industry Trends

Prioritizing Cybersecurity in State and Local Agencies

By Fortinet | August 26, 2020

Industry Perspectives 

This is a summary of an article written for Government Technology by Jim Richberg, Field CISO at Fortinet. The entire article can be accessed here

In the past, conversations around cybersecurity in government have primarily focused on the federal level. Yet when looking at what is happening at a national level, especially when digging into proposed federal legislation, one can get a glimpse into the security-related needs of state and local governments as well. 

Much of this information points to a growing focus on what should be done to secure critical infrastructure – systems for which these smaller governments are responsible. State and local services play an integral role in the lives of many people, and disruptions to education, public safety, municipal water, or local road safety due to a cyberattack simply can have a serious impact on the lives, safety, and well-being of citizens – which makes cybersecurity a top priority. 

State and Local Security Challenges

The challenges that cybersecurity professionals face at the state and local level are complex, perhaps even more so than on a national one. With a broad range of services offered at the town, city, county, and state level, agencies are forced to spread their resources thin in order to secure this infrastructure. Here are five of the most important challenges these state and local agencies face.

  1. Sensitive and Valuable Data: Schools, libraries, police and fire departments, motor vehicle departments, public transportation, roads, and water and sewage systems are all managed by state and local entities. In addition to providing critical services, many of these infrastructures also collect and store citizens’ data, making them prime targets for cybercriminal exploitation.
  2. Personnel Constraints: Both the cybersecurity skills gap and the nationwide high-tech workforce shortage have impacted state and, even more so, local governments severely. Attracting and retaining adequately-sized and skilled IT workforces is difficult, especially when competing against the private-sector marketplace for talent.
  3. Budgetary Constraints: State and local governments have always struggled with budgeting, and in times of economic crisis – such as the COVID-19 pandemic – these local jurisdictions have even more challenges to overcome. Cybersecurity is expensive to implement and maintain, and often gets put in the category of a “nice to have but non-essential” budget bucket. 
  4. Footprint Expansion: In the face of digital transformation, agencies are being confronted with more software licenses, devices, and services than ever before. Considering the rapid growth in the adoption of IoT and cloud services, it is clear that digital footprints of even small municipalities are becoming more complex to manage. Compound this with the vast number of products installed from different vendors, and it is clear why state and local agencies often struggle to gain full visibility into threat activity, monitor their networks, and secure their connected environments.
  5. Compliance: Less visibility and control over expanding networks means that agency IT teams also often find themselves dealing with compliance-related issues. A large number of employees in a typical state and local ecosystem, combined with the fact that most data breaches happen as a result of human error, only amplifies this challenge. 

Tools and Services for Securing State and Local Agencies

To address the challenges noted above, agencies need to choose and implement the right tools and services designed to protect their networks. Here is a checklist that highlights what these tools should provide: 

  1. Secure AccessState governments typically work with third parties and vendors, meaning they must be able to not only authorize logins but also have a multilayered approach in place that makes use of tools, like multi-factor authentication, to ensure secure access.
  2. Integrated Security: Security deployments need to be universal to provide comprehensive threat management. Branch and field offices, core networks, and mobile endpoints all need integrated security designed to provide a “single-pane-of-glass” view out of the box so IT teams can easily manage and monitor operations.
  3. Remote Location Security: To reduce costs and enhance productivity, agencies should leverage SD-WAN at all branches and remote locations. Any chosen solution, however, should already integrate network functionality, connectivity, and security into a single, easy to use product for seamless deployment and management.
  4. Advanced Threat Detection: Given the speed and complexity of modern cyber threats, security teams must be able to respond quickly to an event. To minimize the impact of limited security responses while also ensuring a quick response, it’s recommended that security teams leverage AI-driven automation to counteract today’s cyber threats.
  5. Automation and Integration: Localities with inadequate security staff need cybersecurity solutions that are easy to integrate and offer fully automated adaptive operations, as well as zero-touch plug-and-play configuration. 

Final Thoughts on State and Local Agencies

State and local agencies face unique and complex cybersecurity challenges. With fewer resources at their disposal, a citizenry that expects digitally-enabled services, and a changing threat landscape, state and local IT officials have their hands full. This is why it’s crucial to include secure and sustainable solution integration alongside any build-out or expansion of digital services, so that protections start on day one. 

Learn more about how state and local government cybersecurity helps protect digital assets and critical infrastructure against growing advanced threats.