In March of this year, Chinese hackers penetrated the networks of six different U.S. state government agencies in an espionage operation. Hackers used the Log4j loophole to access their networks, while also attacking many other vulnerable applications.

In May, Hackers from Russia crippled Italian websites with a DDoS attack, which included the Ministry of Defense, the Senate and the National Health Institute. Their prime target was Ukraine and the NATO countries.

These are only a few of the many recent cyberattacks on government agencies across the world. The coronavirus pandemic-induced hybrid work culture is a boon for many, but it brings its own share of pitfalls — high vulnerability to cybercrime being the top concern among organizations. Cybercriminals are playing a highly sophisticated game and are continuously improving their techniques. However, government agencies have not evolved their cybersecurity mechanisms to keep up with the growing risks. Consequently, hackers have enjoyed success in penetrating government websites — further emboldening them for future attacks.

Empowering People to Empower Governments

Any government agency’s first line of defense against cyber risks is its employees. However, they can also be the weakest security link. According to a recent study, more than 80% of security breaches involved the human element. The only key to turn this human weakness into strength is cybersecurity awareness.

In the widespread trend of remote and hybrid working, digital identity is the cornerstone of today’s technology. For a government body, it is highly imperative to protect the identity and data privacy of its users. For instance, a data breach in a government agency can cost more than just a million dollars — critical information can end up with an enemy country which could potentially start a war and cost precious lives.

Therefore, the first step that state and national governments can take is to empower their people with cybersecurity awareness training. Educating users on cyber risks is a crucial part of the overall security strategy and policy of a government agency.

Upskilling Governments: Making Security-first Thinking Universal

Cybersecurity training of employees is a necessity that government organizations can’t ignore anymore. The repercussions and stakes are too high when the security stance of a government agency is compromised. Being prepared and aware is the most fundamental step towards building a secure online ecosystem. Here are some key areas for government organizations to focus their upskilling efforts on:

    1. Preventing data breaches.
    2. Preventing accidental data exposure.
    3. Continuing security.
    4. Security for all.

Preventing Data Breaches

Data breaches are frequently linked to a phishing attempt at some point. A user or an employee can fall prey to a phishing email or message, and the consequences can be disastrous. The user’s system can be infected by ransomware or malware that could lead to credential theft and/or data theft.

A robust cybersecurity training program equips government staff and users to quickly spot the tell-tale signs of a phishing campaign. Phishing simulations used in the training can help educate users while extracting metrics to check if the training has been effective.

Preventing Accidental Data Exposure

Accidental exposure of data covers several possibilities by which sensitive data can fall into the wrong hands. An email mis-delivery or forgetting to lock your computer when you leave your seat are some of the most common ways in which critical information can be leaked and misused. A thorough cybersecurity training strategy educates users not just on the hygiene elements of security, but also the more technical and complex ones. Employees and staff can be trained on good security practices such as creating strong passwords, ensuring user privacy and maintaining a clean desk policy.

Continuing Security

Hackers and cyber attackers are constantly looking for loopholes in traditional security measures to break into a network. Therefore, they are continuously devising new tricks and tactics to fool employees to try and get them to perform malicious activities on their behalf. To ensure that a government organization and its employees are aware of the changes in the cybersecurity threat landscape, the security training strategy should also be a continuous process rather than a one-off event. It helps government organizations stay on top of the latest threats and be prepared to identify and mitigate cyber risks.

Security For All

A cybersecurity training program shouldn’t just be limited to the information technology (IT) department in a government organization. Every staff member, consultant, partner and supplier can be a potential target for a hacker to prey on. Also, any employee or supplier can cause an accidental data exposure due to human error or negligence. Therefore, cybersecurity training is effective only when it is imparted across the organization and also aims to include channel partners and suppliers. Since government institutions are outsourcing services and human resources, this aspect of cybersecurity training is crucial. For cybersecurity to be effective, awareness needs to be universal.