Federal Government Cyber Security
Protect Government Data and Infrastructure Against Cyber Threats
The U.S. Federal Government is a prime target for cyber attacks by sophisticated adversaries seeking to impact national security, public safety, and civilian services. While agencies work to modernize IT, strengthen cyber defenses, and maintain effective citizen service delivery, they also must operate within budget and staffing constraints. Federal missions demand broad, integrated, and automated cybersecurity technologies to meet mission objectives, reduce costs, and enable trusted operations.
For more than 20 years, Fortinet has met customer demands for advanced network and data security with products designed to protect systems, devices, and applications worldwide. Fortinet is laser-focused on making cybersecurity hygiene manageable by delivering cutting-edge solutions and prioritizing compliance with current security standards and unique agency requirements that combine to secure Federal government networks.
Fortinet Federal is a wholly owned subsidiary dedicated to bringing expertise and commitment to U.S. Government agencies, with a focus on meeting public sector priorities, standards, and evolving cybersecurity mandates. Staffed by a seasoned professional team, Fortinet Federal offers civilian and national security organizations alike the opportunity to upgrade their IT infrastructures and enable Secure Networking, Zero-Trust Access, Dynamic Cloud Security, and AI-Driven Security Operations.
Many federal agencies keep all their data in-house, and do not use technologies like Wi-Fi, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Security concerns are certainly a part of the motivation behind this stance. In many cases, however, the bigger reason is a reliance on older communications technology.
An aging infrastructure can have vulnerabilities not found in newer systems. As a result, advanced firewall protection is especially critical for such networks. To prevent intrusions and breaches, agencies must be able to detect and deflect today’s advanced and ever-evolving threats—including malware within encrypted network traffic—without slowing operations or impeding the agency’s mission.
FortiGate next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) provide scalable, comprehensive protection for both older and newer infrastructure without slowing network traffic. Purpose-built application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chip processing results in the industry’s best performance—even when large amounts of traffic encrypted with secure sockets layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS) encryption is inspected. Built-in capability for intent-based segmentation ensures that network resources are adequately divided for appropriate access control. And FortiGuard service bundles for FortiGate help ensure protection against zero-day and polymorphic threats.
Federal agencies operate some of the nation’s largest and most complex networks. Many operate across multiple IP domains, sometimes with each domain housing data at a different level of sensitivity and accessible to different employees and contractors. This sprawling infrastructure creates challenges around visibility and centralized control, threatening both security and operational efficiency.
To provide the best protection and make the most efficient use of taxpayer resources, these massive networks need a coordinated and integrated approach to cybersecurity that extends across domains. End-to-end integration is the only way to unlock full visibility and automation of threat detection, response, and compliance reporting.
The Fortinet Security Fabric provides a comprehensive, cross-domain security architecture that delivers single-pane-of-glass visibility and automation of security processes. Intent-based segmentation ensures that all resources are housed in a place where they are accessible to those who need them and blocked from those who do not. Network access control ensures that only authorized devices connect to the network, and management, analytics, and event management solutions provide visibility, control, and reporting capabilities that help leaders view their agencies’ security posture at a glance.
Nation-state adversaries increasingly mount a variety of attacks against the federal government, and common criminals are always seeking information that is valuable on the black market. Threat actors are using increasingly sophisticated technology to make their attacks more effective. They use automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) to create more zero-day malware, make phishing emails more realistic, and develop attacks that can get through traditional security solutions. And they are starting to use things like swarm technology to accelerate their attacks and make them more effective.
To fight back, federal agencies must have robust, real-time threat intelligence and the insight to enable effective response. As new malware variants proliferate, it is also critical that effective detection of unknown or zero-day threats be a part of the mix. Integration of the security architecture is key, as it enables real-time sharing of threat intelligence across the infrastructure.
Fortinet has one of the world’s largest intelligence networks and has been using AI to detect unknown threats for nearly eight years. AI and ML capabilities are integrated into the Fortinet sandbox solution, web application firewall, advanced endpoint security offerings, and user and entity behavior analytics tool. This coordinated and layered approach helps agencies discover zero-day attacks in real time while minimizing false positives and other productivity-draining threat-intelligence outcomes. It also improves cybersecurity staff productivity and decreases risk.
Big federal agencies struggle to achieve full visibility into the entirety of their vast networks, whether their infrastructure is entirely on-premises or includes hybrid cloud deployments. And the larger federal government continues to lack integrated situational awareness of threats and vulnerabilities across agencies. This lack of visibility hampers the effort to respond to threats that move at machine speed, and coordinated attacks on multiple agencies would potentially be difficult to contain.
The Department of Homeland Security is keenly aware of this issue and is working on a coordinated approach that includes providing resources to agencies to help them address this problem. At the end of the day, the key lies in building a security architecture that is integrated across an entire agency, enabling centralized visibility and control and maximum automation of security processes and reporting.
The Fortinet Security Fabric provides this end-to-end integration, from the data center to multiple clouds to the network edge. This enables a more proactive, consistent approach to security across an agency. FortiManager, FortiAnalyzer, and FortiSIEM provide centralized visibility, control, and reporting with maximum automation. Tools to protect cloud workloads feature native integration with each major public cloud provider and a coordinated approach to securing all of them.
Insider risk is a major threat at federal agencies—sometimes by employees acting with nefarious intent, but often by users who cause problems by accident. In addition to federal employees, tens of thousands of contract employees access federal networks and data, many off-site and under conditions over which the government exercises little control. With everything from critical infrastructure to military secrets to protect, agencies must diligently guard against third-party threats.
Assigning usernames and passwords is no longer adequate for federal agencies to protect against insider threats. The concept of trust is no longer static. Devices change IP addresses as they move around, stolen credentials are bought and sold on the dark web, and legitimate insiders can create threats of their own—accidentally or deliberately. Criminals can steal authorized users’ credentials without their knowledge, sometimes moving laterally in the network for months before being detected.
As a result, agencies must take a multipronged approach to insider threat protection, monitoring the behavior of users, inspecting devices when they request access, and proactively working to bring adversaries into the open. Many federal agencies should operate under a zero-trust model, which replaces the concept of a trusted network with an approach in which all users and endpoints must be verified on a case-by-case basis, and access to data is set by policy or handled on a “need-to-know” basis. The zero-trust approach must be managed strategically, with logical network segmentation to keep unauthorized users away from specific resources and multiple layers of verification and mitigation for noncompliance.
Fortinet enables this kind of layered approach to threat protection in a fully integrated platform. Identity and access management solutions verify users, while network access control keeps tabs on devices. Advanced endpoint security tools help detect and remediate attacks on devices before they can spread on the network. User and entity behavior analytics technology watches for anomalies in behavior, while deception tools help lure attackers into revealing themselves. In many ways, intent-based segmentation provides the foundation for insider threat prevention by segmenting the network according to specific operational and access requirements.
Agencies typically have dozens or even hundreds of networked locations around the country. Providing connections between these branches and the main IT infrastructure has historically required expensive multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) infrastructure that was difficult to scale according to fluctuations in traffic.
Many federal agencies have found that they can improve network performance and resiliency while saving money by moving to software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) connections between locations. But since SD-WAN traffic travels on the public internet, robust security must be built in. And the network and security infrastructure at the branch location would ideally be integrated.
Fortinet Secure SD-WAN provides auto scaling, certified encryption, and cost-effective connections with branch locations, while Fortinet SD-Branch solutions enable consistent security coverage from the internet to the switching infrastructure.
Key Federal Government Cyber Security Challenges
Nation-state Threat Landscape
Many U.S. adversaries have been developing increasingly sophisticated cyber-warfare capabilities for years or even decades and are now stepping up those efforts. Many experts say that the U.S. is not well prepared to defend itself against this growing threat. The federal government is constantly targeted by nation-state actors who seek to conduct espionage, steal classified information, disrupt government operations, cripple critical infrastructure, interfere in elections, and erode citizens’ trust in government. Combating all such threats is critical to national security and a well-functioning civil society.
Each federal government agency has a critical purpose and must consider the implications for business continuity of every decision they make. The consequences of operational disruption for almost any federal entity would impact the lives of thousands or even millions of people. Downtime can result from fast-moving malicious attacks that are difficult to catch in time by manually executed security processes. Latency and the inability to fully coordinate response actions across the range of affected IT assets can also jeopardize operational stability.
Most federal agencies saw a resource reduction when the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed. Since then, Congress has frequently funded the government through a series of short-term continuing resolutions that continue to cap spending for most agencies at current funding levels and impede innovation by precluding “new starts” or programmatic initiatives. Flat funding levels effectively shrink agencies’ spending power every year because of inflation. And the short-term approach to budgeting curtails the ability of agencies to plan for the future when it comes to cybersecurity. As a result, cost reduction is a constant priority, and projects are increasingly evaluated by their return on investment (ROI). Static budgets exacerbate the cybersecurity skills shortage, which makes it difficult to find, retain, and maximize talent in the federal workforce.
Integration of Infrastructure
As the attack surface grows, threats move faster, and the tactics of malicious cyber actors become more sophisticated, agencies tend to deploy point security products to cover new gaps in protection. These solutions usually do not integrate or communicate with each other, resulting in security silos that obscure visibility and shared situational awareness. This ratchets up risk by potentially allowing threats to slip through a fragmented protection infrastructure. A disaggregated security architecture also reduces operational efficiency, as manual security workflows are required to bring a semblance of visibility and respond to threats. Architectural silos also increase operational costs by creating redundancies in licensing, staff skills requirements, and product support needs.
Many federal agencies continue to maintain their entire IT infrastructure in-house, with systems containing especially sensitive information sometimes air gapped from the internet. However, a growing number of agencies are now looking at cloud services as a way to stretch limited resources and increase efficiency. Protecting a growing cloud infrastructure is a more recent business need for federal agencies than for most other industries, and security solutions must be ready to provide government-scale protection for cloud resources.
All federal agencies are now required to adhere to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework. Many of them must comply with NIST guidance for multiple types of information—and demonstrate this compliance to auditors. Diverting staff from cyber operations to preparing audit reports is both time-consuming and an inefficient use of cyber talent. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) Program provides funding to help agencies upgrade their systems, and requires that cybersecurity systems be integrated to enable automated visibility and reporting.
Fortinet Differentiators for Federal Government Cyber Security
Performance at Scale
Based in the U.S., Fortinet provides next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) with purpose-built application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chip processing for high performance and low latency. The result: the industry’s best performance. And unlike many competing solutions, this performance is not impacted by secure sockets layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS) encryption inspection. This performance is maintained even at the massive scale of a federal agency.
Fortinet delivers a flexible platform for building an end-to-end, integrated security architecture across multiple domains, highly classified systems, and cloud-based resources. An open application programming interface (API) and Fabric Connectors help federal agencies to integrate third-party tools for niche coverage and to maximize prior investments.
Fortinet’s broad, scalable government IT solution enables large, cabinet-level agencies to build their entire security core architecture on a single platform and adapt for future requirements. This eliminates the need to “rip and replace” the entire government network security infrastructure every few years.
Fortinet simplifies the process of achieving compliance and documenting performance to auditors. With an integrated architecture visible through a single pane of glass, reporting and remediation of problems are automated. This is in contrast with disaggregated security approaches, which require significant manual work to correlate reports from different tools.
The Fortinet Security Fabric is built for distributed hybrid cloud environments, with cloud-native security tools that integrate with each other and with in-house infrastructure. As federal entities move more resources to the cloud, they can be assured of integrated, comprehensive protection.
Fortinet delivers the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) in the industry due to high-performance throughput and low latency powered by purpose-built ASIC security processors. As a result, Fortinet NGFWs achieved top scores in NSS Labs’ Security Value Maps for Next-generation Firewalls and Breach Prevention Systems.
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