Cybersecurity Risks for CT Municipalities: How Towns Can Fight Back

     

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Businesses, healthcare facilities, government agencies, and even Connecticut municipalities are targets for cybercriminals. It doesn’t even matter how secure your data are; hackers will want to break into your systems anyway, even if it’s just to steal server access to launch an attack against someone else.

Connecticut townships are seeing an ongoing barrage of online attacks, and they have to develop more aggressive strategies to protect themselves.

Cybersecurity and Cyberterrorism

The scope of internet crime is big and is growing bigger, and government agencies continue to remain high on hacker target lists. In 2016, the President proposed a $3.1 billion fund to replace the outdated government IT infrastructure, creation of a new position of federal chief information security officer (CISO), and commission of a new study on cybersecurity. This proposal followed an attack on the Office of Personnel Management that led to the theft of fingerprints and Social Security numbers for up to 21.5 million people. Similarly, in 2014, both the State Department and the Executive Office of the President shut down unclassified email systems after detecting suspicious activity.

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Federal agencies aren’t the only government offices that are hacker targets. According to Governor Dannel Malloy, the IT system for the State of Connecticut is attacked from 150,000 times to 250,000 times each month. Of special concern is cyberterrorism. The state is working on new legislation to protect its power grids from hacking as part of a terrorist attack.

Connecticut legislators also are taking steps to protect residents’ personal data. For example, Anthem, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, suffered a data breach that exposed 80 million personal records, including those of 1.4 million Connecticut residents and 180,600 state employees. While Anthem is offering free credit monitoring, state legislators have been debating whether or not to mandate encryption of all personal data.

Steps to Protect Municipal IT

What can municipalities do to protect themselves and their citizens from cyberattacks? Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Hire a full-time CISO – Just as the U.S. Government determined it needed a cybersecurity czar, the same role would be of value to municipal governments. Unfortunately, experienced cybersecurity professionals are in great demand and short supply, and most municipal budgets can’t afford a full-time CISO. However, a shared-service agreement with other towns could help pay for a cybersecurity expert who works across multiple municipalities. That way, the security expert can look out for multiple government agencies, applying common policies, monitoring, doing group training, etc.
  • Establish a cybersecurity policy – Preparedness comes from having a well-thought-out policy in place. Develop procedures and protocols for better data security, such as strong password protection, user authentication, data encryption, and data storage. And keep the policies fresh by holding annual or biannual meetings to review them. You should also consider creating training manuals and videos to educate elected officials, volunteers, and new hires.
  • Create an incident-response plan – Incident-response planning helps minimize the impact of a cyberattack. Start with the assumption that it’s not a matter of if you will be attacked but rather when. Identify the key security participants, their roles, and their actions for each step of the response plan. Make sure you maintain an up-to-date list of contacts. Also, monitor what’s happening in the area of cybersecurity and update your plan protocols to address new potential threats.
  • Maintain security software on your network – Be sure that you have adequate technological protection, including the latest in anti-malware and anti-virus software. Keep your anti-malware definitions current and watch for unusual network activity that could indicate an attack.
  • Store sensitive data in the cloud – One way to secure data is to store them elsewhere, outside the network. Many cloud service providers have extremely secure online storage facilities. Virtualization of remote data sources keeps up to 80 percent of network traffic internal, so it never is exposed outside the perimeter of the network. Virtualization in a cloud-computing environment also isolates applications and workloads, which makes it easier to protect data.
  • Use remote systems monitoring – Contracting a managed services provider to monitor network traffic helps with threat prevention. Often, an expert can identify a potential threat or intruder by monitoring systems from the outside, which can head off a cyberattack.
  • Keep secure data backups – In addition to prevention, you want to make sure you have the ability to restore a system if it has been compromised. Maintaining clean data backups is the best way to ensure you have malware-free data.
  • Work with a security consultant – Identifying all the weaknesses in any enterprise network is a tall order. One of the best preventive strategies is to find a security consultant to provide expert guidance. Even if your budget can’t handle hiring a CISO, having a managed services company on call that can provide security expertise will be money well spent.

Every organization faces cyberthreats, including Connecticut municipalities. Your town’s computer network has undoubtedly been attacked already and likely more than once. You can’t stop the hackers, but you can protect yourself with a well-conceived security strategy and the right security expertise to guide you.

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About The Author

President of NSI, Tom has been helping small and medium businesses succeed in Connecticut for over 25 years.