Public Sector Risk

Public Sector Upgrading Cyber Security

States have launched initiatives ranging from cyber academies and public-private partnerships to dashboards, and cyber preparedness and response plans.
By: | October 28, 2016 • 5 min read

Public sector risk managers and experts alike say much more needs to be done about cyber security to translate awareness into concrete actions that protect sensitive data.

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Only one-third (29 percent) of IT managers in state governments provide their governors with monthly reports on cyber security, compared with only 17 percent in 2014, according to a joint report from Deloitte and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

That level of communication has not yet extended to state legislatures, according to the study, “State Governments at Risk: Turning Strategy and Awareness into Progress,” which surveyed 96 state business and elected officials.

Nearly one-third of respondents said they “never communicate” with their legislatures, unchanged from 2014 — which is “an important consideration, given the legislature’s role in appropriating funds,” according to the report.

Still, many states are starting to act and make progress in areas visible to governors.

More than half (54 percent) of respondents said they have implemented at least some of the cyber security recommendations by the National Governors Association, compared with only one-third (33 percent) in 2014.

Mark Raymond, chief information officer, State of Connecticut

Mark Raymond, chief information officer, State of Connecticut

Governors in a number of states have launched initiatives ranging from state cyber academies and public-private partnerships to dashboards, and preparedness and response plans.

The 2016 survey results are the first time there is “some significant traction around the issue,” said Mark Raymond, chief information officer for the State of Connecticut and president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers based in Lexington, Ken.

“It’s not just about the increased risk and threat, but there are states that are making positive progress in articulating a strategy to increase awareness around what they are doing to reduce the risk,” Raymond said.

Public entities need to take a hard look at all of their computer technology — both hardware and software — and question the totality of access and whether each individual’s access is necessary and appropriate, said Marilyn Rivers, risk manager for the city of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“Risk managers need to take a trip to their server rooms and examine the security and access,” Rivers said. “Ask about password control and the regular backup of the information that flows throughout their organizations on an hourly and daily basis.

“Ask how your organization protects itself from all the hand-held mobile devices your employees use or the laptops taken home for work projects,” she said.

She said public sector risk managers should have a plan for what would happen if information stops flowing throughout the organization. Do you have a backup separate from the live system? Can your government recreate itself if held hostage?

Rivers also said public sector risk managers should examine access to websites, including which websites are visited by employees and what tracking cookies are involved.

“Every public entity is facing an urgent cyber crisis that is dynamic and in constant change,” Rivers said. “It is vitally important to all of us as we govern collectively to identify our network access and vulnerabilities and invest in technology and people to assist us in managing this global risk frontier.”

Barry Scott, deputy director of finance and risk manager, City of Philadelphia

Barry Scott, deputy director of finance and risk manager, City of Philadelphia

It is also important for public sector risk managers to invest in a comprehensive insurance program that assists in mitigating and managing the cost of the risks their governmental entity faces, she said.

Barry Scott, deputy director of finance and risk manager for the City of Philadelphia, said that it’s critical that his team strives “to ensure that every city department bears the responsibility for managing information correctly.”

“The first layer is trying to make sure that people are smart in how they manage the information we have about residents and businesses in the city, and storing the information in the proper format,” Scott said. “That helps work with the IT layer, so that appropriate security can be placed to protect that information.”

The public sector also faces a somewhat unique set of challenges — in order to add more resources to the organization’s capabilities, the tax base needs to be engaged, he said.

“Our citizens need to be aware that the services they seek, namely, the ease of access to their information that automated systems bring, have some issues in terms of security and protection — and those services have a cost which we as citizens have to bear,” Scott said.

“One of our biggest challenges as a public entity with finite resources is getting the best value in our resources — and in an increasingly digital world, cyber security is a priority.”

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Raymond of NASCIO recommended that IT professionals and risk management departments in the public sector measure where their organizations are on the “cyber risk scale,” what kind of data they have and how they are protecting it.

“You can’t improve the things that are you are not measuring,” Raymond said. “Once you understand the value of that data, you need to determine what controls are needed to be put in place to protect the data.”

Then IT and risk management need to articulate their strategies to the executive management team in a way that enables them to understand both the threat and the efforts around it in a concise manner, he said.

Once executive management clearly understands what can be done about cyber security risks, they can appropriately prioritize resources to reduce exposure.

“States not only have to mitigate for financial risk of data loss or theft from state accounts, but also for the loss of data containing people’s personal information from many sources like birth and death certificates,” Raymond said.

Kristin Judge, director of special projects, National Cyber security Alliance

Kristin Judge, director of special projects, National Cyber security Alliance

“State governments also need to be aware of how cyber attacks can result in lost productivity, lost trust of government, and increased risk of bad decisions — such as a cyber criminals directing the state to let someone out of jail who isn’t supposed to be, or putting someone in jail that’s not supposed to be there.”

Kristin Judge, director of special projects at the National Cyber Security Alliance in Washington, D.C., said her group stresses to public sector risk managers that they must communicate that their entire governmental organization has responsibility for cyber security, and that all workers must be part of the solution.

“We want people to create a culture of cyber security, and just as they have fire drills, they should also have cyber security drills like checking the quality of backups and the process for restoring data, for example,” Judge said.

“It’s also very important to have training, as 90 percent of attacks do not come from sophisticated code meant to break through IT security systems, but rather from employees just clicking on phishing emails — so 90 percent of attacks can be stopped by trained staff.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

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