Cyber attacks on state and local governments continue to be on the rise. With more attacks targeting municipalities, there needs to be a push toward boosting cyber preparedness.
Even though the risks remain at an all-time high for municipalities, the lack of budget and knowledge has caused officials to put cybersecurity on the back burner. We’ve defined critical elements necessary for a municipal cybersecurity plan to help local governments reduce the risk of a breach, protect constituent information, and better allocate IT resources.
Let’s dive in.
Why are municipalities enticing targets for cybercriminals?
In addition to being a vault for sensitive data (tax information, voter records, etc.), local governments often have outdated technology that is needed to secure networks and systems – making them ‘easy rewards’ for cybercriminals. Smaller municipal governments have limited resources to combat technology challenges that are not direct threats. As a result, municipalities generally have weaker security measures making them the ideal target for criminals to exploit.
Without a doubt, the most common cyber threat faced by municipalities today is ransomware attacks. In 2020, 44% of these global ransomware attacks targeted municipalities – where local governments were denied access to files, computers, and critical systems until a ransom was paid. Nowadays, brute force attacks and credential stuffing have become more popular means for distributing ransomware to vulnerable targets.
5 Elements to include in your municipal cybersecurity plan
Cybercriminals are becoming more adaptable and persistent in this high-risk environment. For that reason, municipal leaders need to be well-prepared and proactive in detecting vulnerabilities, monitoring risks, and educating employees on cybersecurity. A robust municipal cybersecurity plan can help streamline these efforts, so let’s take a look at the top elements you need to incorporate.
Attack surface monitoring
As municipalities grow and adopt new capabilities, their digital footprint continues to expand – but so does their attack surface. The expansion of their surface may make it difficult to monitor and mitigate potential risks hidden across digital assets.
By incorporating attack surface monitoring into the cybersecurity plan, security teams can have greater visibility into their cities’ digital footprint – allowing them to identify each asset, its location, and the potential risks associated with it. That way, leaders can allocate appropriate IT resources where needed and prioritize remediation efforts most critical to the municipality.
One of the most critical aspects of cybersecurity is speed — more specifically, the time to respond is essential in minimizing the impact of cyber attacks. The faster you can detect and respond to threats, the lower the risk for serious damage that takes years to remediate. With municipalities’ digital environment expanding, it’s becoming even more difficult to manage cybersecurity monitoring manually.
Leveraging a continuing monitoring tool like security ratings can help municipalities stay one step ahead of hackers and respond to threats more efficiently, enhancing your overall security posture. In addition, security ratings can be advantageous for municipalities with distributed security programs from city halls to police departments to public schools. Essentially, continuous monitoring powered by security ratings makes it easier for municipalities to measure the effectiveness of their cybersecurity efforts.
Cybersecurity performance benchmarks
Another element municipalities can include in their cybersecurity plan is to benchmark their performance against other cities. In doing so, municipalities better understand how other cities are performing, and exactly where the gaps in their cybersecurity program are that need to be improved. From there, municipalities can build improvement plans, accurately track operations, and even advocate for more security resources!
Third-party risk assessment and management
Municipalities work with third parties that need access to their systems and data. This can be a problem in itself since cybercriminals target third-party providers to access their clients’ data and networks, such as the infamous SolarWinds breach in 2020. After all, municipalities usually don’t have the same kind of control over third parties as they do their own – introducing a new host of vulnerabilities.
Incorporating a robust third-party risk assessment and management process in the plan is needed to gain better visibility, minimize the impact in case of a breach, and improve overall security posture. You need to continually monitor how accurately third-party risk assessments are evaluating vendor risk in order for it to be effective. On the other hand, a vigorous risk management process can systematically detect, assess, and mitigate threats to assets caused by third parties.
Updated security policies and guidelines
In this day and age, municipal officials and employees are starting to work outside the traditional network perimeter – it’s become the norm! That said, municipalities must take into consideration remote and home-based access and update their security policies and guidelines accordingly. These guidelines can include strengthening firewalls, reinforcing VPN policies, educating employees about network security in their own homes, and having security teams tighten up security around personal devices.
How SecurityScorecard can help
These highly-targeted cyber attacks will continue to prove a daunting challenge to many small towns and municipalities across the globe. Municipalities are directing vital services, handling critical infrastructure, and responding to the needs of constituents daily. In other words, municipalities act as external storehouses of private data that are necessary to the daily operation of cities and towns – making them enticing targets for cybercriminals.
The first step municipal leaders need to take is to develop a vigorous cybersecurity plan to become better prepared against threat actors. By leveraging SecurityScorecard Security Ratings, local governments gain better visibility into the health of the cyber ecosystem, as well as monitor the health of the entire sector. Interested in knowing how well your security posture is performing? Get your free score today.
As attack surfaces grow and change, it’s critical that you have insight into yours — and that means knowing the attack surface of your third parties as well. Request a demo of SecurityScorecard’s Attack Surface Intelligence tool to better see your attack surface, and when you can see it, you can better protect it.