3 surefire ways to build a better cybersecurity strategy

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Agencies should build a cyber-savvy team, create stronger bonds with outside partners and deploy tools and training necessary to keep cyber threats at bay.

Data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies paints a sobering picture of the modern cybersecurity landscape. The CSIC, which has been compiling data on cyberattacks against government agencies since 2006, found the United States has been far and away the top victim of cyber espionage and cyber warfare.

These statistics are behind the Defense Department's cybersecurity strategy for component agencies that details on how they can better fortify their networks and protect information.

DOD's strategy is built on five pillars: building a more lethal force, competing and deterring in cyberspace, strengthening alliances and attracting new partnerships, reforming the department and cultivating talent.

While aspects of the strategy don't apply to all agencies, three of the tactics will help all government offices improve the nation's defenses against malicious threats.

Build a cyber-savvy team

Fundamentally strong cybersecurity starts with people -- they are responsible for creating security protocols, understanding threat vectors and responding when an incident occurs. That’s why establishing a top-tier cybersecurity defense should always start with a team of highly trained cyber specialists.

There are two ways to do this.

First, agencies can look within and identify individuals who could be retrained as cybersecurity specialists. Prospects may include employees whose current responsibilities feature some form of security analysis and even those whose current roles are outside IT. For example, the CIO Council’s Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy trains non-IT personnel in the art and science of cybersecurity. Agencies may also explore creating a DevSecOps culture that intertwines development, security and operations teams to ensure that application development processes remain secure and free of vulnerabilities.

Second, agencies should place an emphasis on cultivating new and future cybersecurity talent. While the cybersecurity skills shortage is real, efforts to address this issue are in place, as illustrated by the White House’s May executive order on fostering a cybersecurity workforce. To attract new talent, agencies can offer potential employees the opportunity for unparalleled cybersecurity skills training, exceptional benefits and even work with the private sector. The recently established Cybersecurity Talent Initiative is an excellent example of this strategy in action.

Establish alliances and partnerships

The Cybersecurity Talent Initiative reflects the private sector’s willingness to support federal government cybersecurity initiatives and represents an important milestone in agencies’ relationship with corporations. Many of the companies involved know the stakes involved protecting themselves and their users from threats. Just recently, several prominent organizations endured what some called the cybersecurity week from hell when multiple serious vulnerabilities were uncovered. They’ve been through it all, so it makes sense for federal agencies to turn to these companies to learn how to build up their own defenses.

In addition to partnering with private-sector organizations, agencies can protect against threats by sharing information with other departments, which will help bolster everyone’s defenses. Working with the open-source community to implement and develop agile and flexible cybersecurity solutions is also a good idea.

Arm your team with the right tools

While people and partners are two critical parts of the security puzzle, it’s still important to have the right tools to successfully prevent and mitigate cyberattacks. Continuous monitoring solutions, for example, can effectively police government networks and alert managers to potential anomalies and threats. They can also accurately pinpoint trouble spots so managers can address them more quickly. Access rights management tools can ensure that only the right people have access to certain types of priority data, while advanced threat monitoring can keep managers apprised of security threats in real-time.

Of course, IT staff will need continuous training and education -- not just to use these tools, but to recognize changing threats. One-off training sessions and email updates are not enough. A good practice is implementing monthly or at least bi-monthly training that covers the latest viruses, social engineering scams, agency security protocols and more. Agencies can look to the security awareness training guidance from HIPAA for more information.

In the U.S. we strive to be No. 1 and have successfully achieved that distinction in many areas. We do not, however, want to be  at the top of the list when it comes to cyberattacks. Sadly, that’s where we have found ourselves over the past several years -- the price of being the largest and most information-rich country in the world.

DOD is clearly determined to change that, however, and its five-pillared strategy is a good starting point. Agencies can follow its lead by focusing their efforts on cultivating their staff, creating stronger bonds with outside partners and supporting this solid foundation with the tools and training necessary to win the cybersecurity war.

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