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Governing Over Critical Data in the Internet of Things

Governments manage large quantities of critical data, but they also manage systems that protect us from physical dangers. From sensors that trigger early warnings for natural disasters to critical protection systems the FAA provides, government data houses both information and systems critical to public safety.

When it comes to government, undergoing any digital transformation could render sensitive or classified information accessible to hackers. It takes a comprehensive, integrated approach to security and a constant evolution of cyber strategies using the latest technological advances to successfully protect these agencies from cyber threats.

So, what are the main challenges that government entities face, and how can they better secure their IoT devices and endpoints?

Moving on From Outdated Systems

It’s important for government entities to update their cybersecurity practices as they digitize their processes. Take voting, for example. According to CyberScoop, the three companies that make most of the voting technology in the US provide it to 92% of the eligible voting population. 

However, the cybersecurity community has called attention to the weaknesses in this technology, seen in the meddling with voting records during the 2016 elections. While the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) recently proposed an update to its Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines, it’s not expected to be fully approved in time for the 2020 elections. As our voting technology and software continue to evolve, our voting security guidelines should also follow suit. 

This isn’t to say that solutions haven’t been proposed. In an effort to keep votes private and anonymous, American voting machines cannot be audited. This also means that votes can’t be verified in the case of a hack. But this could all change soon. According to The Guardian, new machines called ballot-marking devices (BMD) will let voters use a touchscreen to place their votes and then print out paper ballots. Once the user has verified their ballot, they will insert it into an optical scanner that will quickly count it and save the paper in a secure lockbox. 

This ability to store, monitor, detect, respond and recover information from something like a bug could create more resilient voting systems. As new software changes are implemented into voting systems, new security practices will need to be enforced as well. It’s crucial that federal agencies continue to work at creating a voting system that is as secure as possible to ensure integrity. 

Government Hacks: Breaching Federal Secrets and Trust 

Voting systems are just one example of endpoints susceptible to cyberthreats. In fact, a 2018 report by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget shows that of the 96 federal agencies it assessed, 74% were deemed “at risk” or “high risk.” What’s more, 38% of government cybersecurity attacks never identify the “attack vector,” crippling their incident response and leaving them susceptible to future attacks. 

As IoT and endpoint technology evolves and becomes more pervasive, government cybersecurity teams should be prepared to deal with more sophisticated threats. Specifically, those targeting federal endpoint devices which hold incredibly sensitive information. For example, a hacker recently stole and exposed more than 48,000 documents related to the Mexican embassy from a vulnerable server in Guatemala. These contained the identity documents of Mexican citizens and diplomats, front and back scans of payment cards and many other files marked “confidential.”

When government servers are hacked and exposed, it puts state secrets and citizen information in jeopardy, fostering a lack of trust between a government and its citizens. Additionally, federal secrets could be worth far more than any monetary gain, especially during times of war. Keeping critical data secure could be vital to the well-being of a government body and maintaining trust with its citizens. 

Keep Your Guard Up Against IoT Attacks

How do government agencies prepare for the ongoing cybersecurity battle? Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, ensuring the security of smart cities won’t happen overnight. However, there are various steps these agencies can take to improve federal government endpoint security

First and foremost, utilize advancements made in Artificial Intelligence to predict and protect before damage can be done.  

Secondly, protect IoT devices from infiltration by utilizing technology to secure the endpoint itself (think sensors that have been hacked to report bad data). This ensures both data at-rest and in transit is encrypted. 

Thirdly, deploy a strong security operations center. This will allow your agency to analyze and incorporate threat intelligence while heightening your incident response efforts to better protect data from known or future threats. 

Next, implement regulations and policies around cybersecurity practices, ensuring standardized practices down to the state/local agencies managing smart cities. This will be the driving force for how companies or governments react to threats.

Lastly, ditching legacy hardware and software that has open vulnerabilities and modernizing government technology puts agencies in a better position to fight off IoT cyberthreats. Many legacy IoT devices don’t allow for over-the-air updates to firmware. Some IoT devices don’t even allow for any firmware updates at all. So, as vulnerabilities are found, they can be difficult to patch without changing the hardware. That’s why an “out with the old, in with the new” mentality is so important for government.

As government agencies collect and share more digital information, it will become even more vital for them to develop comprehensive, integrated approaches to security to guard against the evolving threat landscape and attacks. 

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