Cybersecurity in government agencies: challenges and opportunities

Sara Ana Cemazar
May 2, 2023
min read

For government and public sector organizations, cybersecurity is a big obstacle to digital transformation. The two seem at odds: implementing digital transformation best practices seems impossible while upholding the highest cybersecurity standards.

In this article, we discuss challenges and opportunities to marry the two seemingly opposite items: cybersecurity and digital transformation in highly regulated industries of Government and the Public Sector, burdened with upholding citizens’ trust.

Cybersecurity challenges for government agencies

Due to their industry’s specific nature and the data they work with, governments experience cybersecurity challenges that organizations in other industries don’t. In this chapter, we break down these challenges.

Governments are prominent targets of cyber attacks.

Government agencies deal with large amounts of different data depending on their specific function. That includes citizen data and politically valuable data that can be used for malicious intent.

Some examples of notable cyber attacks on government agencies include:

  • A ransomware attack on UK’s National Health Service, resulting in $125 million in costs and 19,000 medical appointments canceled
  • A phishing attack on the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, resulting in the theft of 250 GB of police data and undisclosed costs
  • A ransomware attack on the City of Baltimore resulted in $18.2 million in costs.

The costs speak for themselves — but it’s important to note that cybersecurity breaches can have severe consequences for the citizens afflicted.

Legacy software

Government agencies are often not fast to adopt changes in technology. Since public government budgets are tight, software and hardware updates aren’t frequently in the budget.

That represents a significant cybersecurity challenge.

Not only is the old, legacy software more prone to cyberattacks, but it’s also not user-friendly, which may lead agency employees to resort to other solutions not approved by the government.

For example, it might be hard for agency officials to collaborate and exchange information, so they use WhatsApp. However, exchanging important information via WhatsApp doesn’t uphold the strong security criteria of government agencies.

Trouble finding tech talent

To keep up with the best cybersecurity practices, you need to have the people who will execute those. Government agencies have rigorous employment processes that might turn away great candidates working in leaner industries such as tech.

Also, the reputation of some government agencies (excluding military and defense) is that they’re technical laggards, which might turn away more tech talent. 

The need to marry digital transformation and cybersecurity

One of the biggest challenges of governmental agencies, in general, is digital transformation. At the same time, governments need to find ways to upgrade their digital practices and increase cybersecurity.

At the core of this approach lies a paradox — the more you’re online, the more exposed you are to cybersecurity vulnerabilities. However, government agencies must often contain their exposure and employ on-premise software. Luckily, nowadays, some solutions satisfy the criteria of high security standards and advanced digital technologies.

➡️ Find out what the difference is between cloud and on-premise solutions security-wise.

Complying with data privacy regulations

As the world grows digitally, more data is becoming regulated under laws and regulations. Strict data protection regulations such as GDPR or HIPAA add additional layers of complications to IT admins trying to introduce digitally advanced technologies to government organizations.

Complying with data privacy regulations is difficult in itself, since they are multi-layered and require a complex set of practices to implement. However, complying with data privacy regulations isn’t a challenge for cybersecurity per se — these regulations make it less likely that certain data will get exposed.

How to improve cybersecurity in government

Improving cybersecurity isn’t a single task: it’s an ongoing process. As cyber threats evolve, so does the approach to defend from them.

Considering their industry and their challenges, increasing cybersecurity isn’t easy for governments and government agencies. At the same time as improving cybersecurity, they must also digitalize their services to serve citizens better.

Here’s our advice on how it can be done.

Utilize open source software

Open source software has numerous benefits for government agencies. As the software code is available to intervene in, it can be checked for fair data usage. Also, the software can be modified to match the exact needs of the organization at hand (cue: complying with data privacy laws and connecting the new tools with legacy software).

government cybersecurity

EU has already recognized the benefits of open source software and is actively encouraging member states’ public sector organizations to adopt the open source principles and tools with the Open Source Strategy.

➡️ Learn in detail how open source software benefits public sector organizations.

Multilevel security approach

Federal and government agencies apply a multilevel security approach to ensure complete data privacy and enforce strict cybersecurity measures. This approach includes the advanced use of restrictions to data access according to the organization’s hierarchical categorization of personnel and information

In simple terms, multilevel security ensures that some information is unavailable to personnel at certain levels. This ensures unauthorized access to information as well as declassifying information.

The multilevel security approach is a must-have in advanced military institutions that deal with foreign policy. However, the lessons from this extreme approach can be applied in a wide variety of cases.

➡️ Learn more about multilevel security and why it is important.

Strong admin controls

Preventing cybersecurity breaches includes putting the right people in control: meaning giving admins the power to supervise what goes on and flag dangerous situations.

For example, when strong admin controls are applied within a collaboration tool, admins should have the possibility to set up the system in a way that allows them control over exchanged information. This will enable the whole organization to operate within a regulatory framework and decrease the possibility of unintentional and intentional cybersecurity breaches from within.

Air gapping and on-premise deployment

On-premise deployment allows complete data sovereignty, meaning government agencies don’t have to keep their data in the cloud. This is beneficial for several reasons, but it all boils down to owning your data, thus preventing the possibility of unwarranted access

Governments often employ air gapping in their rows as an additional data security step. It entails total isolation of the system at hand from any other networks. Air-gapped systems are thus protected because access to them is very hard due to their non-existent online presence.

government cybersecurity

Secure collaboration for government agencies with Rocket.Chat

Ensuring high levels of data security is difficult for any type of organization. However, safeguarding data is even more difficult for government agencies and public sector organizations, riddled with handling extremely sensitive data and responsibility to the public.

In any case, failing to apply the best cybersecurity practices can be very costly.

On the other hand, there’s more pressure than ever to collaborate internally and externally with partner organizations. The digital environment calls for careful implementation of cybersecurity practices that, at the same time, ensure uninhibited collaboration.

Aware of this, we’ve made sure that Rocket.Chat meets all the important criteria for advanced cybersecurity in government. With it, organizations can achieve full data sovereignty while collaborating with partner organizations.

Here are some useful materials to help you understand Rocket. Chat’s offer for the government and public sector:

➡️ Rocket.Chat guide for organizations in the US

➡️ Rocket.Chat guide for organizations in the EU

➡️How Rocket.Chat meets the needs of government agencies across the globe

Get started with Rocket.Chat’s secure collaboration platform

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Sara is an SEO Strategist at Rocket.Chat. She is passionate about topics around digital transformation, workplace experience, open source, and data privacy and security.
Sara Ana Cemazar
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