Any work environment is riddled with potential security risks, but some are especially hazardous to government agencies due to the potential for a small slip to quickly become a national security issue. Here are some of the common risks to government data and what can be done to avoid falling prey to them.
This category encompasses a large range of potential issues ranging from careless employee behaviors like misplaced equipment or documents, disclosure of sensitive information via email, or poor password construction.
The most important step to keep these errors contained is to have an established plan for when they happen. According to PwC, “only 37% of organizations have a cyber incident response plan.” Problems related to human error are bound to happen, so it is important to have policies in place that allow for quick, decisive action to rectify those issues when they arise. These policies also need to be backed up with the proper infrastructure to quickly and efficiently implement them when the time comes.
Other types of human error can be anticipated. A “clean desk policy” that encourages employees to eliminate clutter each day can help cut down certain risks such as exposed documents with the added bonus of better productivity as a result of the clean workspace. With this type of policy, employees are instructed to either file documents in secure storage areas or destroy them as appropriate. Rather than letting documents build up on a desk out in the open, they will be properly dealt with in a timely manner each day, reducing the chances of unauthorized access.
Issues such as simple or reused passwords can be dealt with by instituting a rolling password policy where employees must change passwords to sensitive portals or programs on a regular basis and meet rigorous criteria for usage. A password management system or other automated safeguards may also be appropriate in some cases as these can ease the burden on the user.
Beyond these steps, up-to-date security awareness education is always important. Employees need to stay informed of what they can do to maintain security standards as well as the latest techniques cyber criminals are using to breach organizations. Keeping this training and all policies updated will help minimize the controllable risks.
BYOD Policies & Old Equipment
Bring your own device (BYOD) policies are becoming more and more common these days despite the fact that BYOD exposes data to additional risks. Small devices such as phones or laptops are easy to lose and are common targets of theft. Government agencies can take steps to minimize the damage from these events by requiring the ability to remote wipe data from devices as part of agency policy.
BYOD poses other risks due to the lack of control over what else is installed on the device. This could include apps bundled with malware or that request shared data access. When it comes to devices that utilize the cloud, the risks are multiplied further with the potential for the cloud to be hacked or for the information to be shared across further devices that may not be secure.
In addition to BYOD, older equipment can be risky due to out of date security. This can sometimes be an easy fix, such as installing a security patch, or it may require a larger investment to get the team on newer hardware and software. Older or unsecured printer or Wi-Fi networks can also be an entryway for malicious attacks. While organizational networks may be secured, employee sometimes set up their own local networks, so this behavior must either be monitored or discouraged.
No matter what steps are taken within a government organization, there is always the potential for an attack with truly malicious intent. Cyber criminals have developed sophisticated methods and it is of the utmost importance to make employees aware of the latest techniques.
Ransomware and social engineering attacks such as phishing scams are on the rise, in large part because of how successful these are. Keep employees informed of the latest scams and what to do if they encounter a suspicious document or email. Even the best email scanning programs may miss something, so the team must remain vigilant and be aware of who to contact if there is an issue.
Another potential security risk is former employees. Exit interviews should reiterate the agency’s policies regarding information technology and the penalties for using or selling stolen data. Additionally, the exit process should include terminating employee credentials immediately. It is very common for employees to take sensitive data with them when leaving an organization, so limiting and monitoring access as much as possible is an important tool to minimize this risk.
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