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Key Cybersecurity Challenges in the Public Sector & How to Address Them

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

As compared to the private sector, the public sector organizations are more vulnerable to cyberattacks and face different types of challenges when it comes to cybersecurity directives.

With the ever-evolving digital world, myriads of public sector entities have embraced cybersecurity initiatives as a necessity. But many still may not have the right mindset or budget to implement it in the real sense. Often, public sector organizations don’t have the ideal corporate culture that seamlessly blends this digital change into their workflows.

Now, public sector organizations are usually well aware that they lack talent or have a skills gap to close when it comes to cybersecurity.

So in this post, we are going to look at the key cybersecurity challenges public sector faces and how you can mitigate them:

Why Public Sector Faces Most Cybersecurity Attacks?

Back in October 2018, “WannaCry”- a ransomware attack nearly shut off over 200,000 computer systems worldwide, including the ones in the NHS environment. This hacking caused a massive loss to the NHS of around £20 million in a week, while further upgrades and cleaning cost them £72 million more. This attack was not strategically targeted towards the NHS, instead, it was a sweeping attack on all vulnerable computers across the globe, and NHS machines happened to be a part of it.

Such attacks prove that the public sector is highly exposed and vulnerable to attacks, even if they’re not a preset target.

Often, medical organizations overlook the importance of safeguarding medical records. But in the black market, a medical record is worth 10X as much as a credit card number. And that’s the reason why cybercriminals are known to execute 34.5% data breaches into healthcare, while education is at 9%, military at 6.6%, and banking at 4.8%.

Even “hacktivists” are now growing to execute cyberattacks on the public sector through protests or promoting their political view. An excellent example of this was in April 2019, when the UK police websites were shut down, and stolen police data was shared to protest against Julian Assange’s arrest.

The public sector entities are vulnerable to cyber-attacks since it is a financially and politically rewarding sector. Further, it possesses large amounts of sensitive data. These organizations own intellectual property associated with cutting-edge research, they handle records of abuse, care, and vulnerabilities, and they represent a state and its operations. Successfully attacking the public sector is like attacking the state itself.

We know that the public sector runs in a data-driven environment. From housing, healthcare to the education sector, data is surely an integral part of the public sector services and success. But it is also true that the increasing complexity and volume of such data make the public sector more vulnerable to theft, misuse, or loss through mismanagement or attacks. This will further result in damaging citizens’ security and privacy, thereby hindering essential public services.

Recently, the high profile data breaches have again brought “cybersecurity” into the spotlight.

Common Cybersecurity Challenges in Public Sector

Transforming from On-prem or Hybrid platform to remote cloud-based systems comes with its own set of challenges.

1. Implementing best practices

The very first challenge is teaching best practices to train the staff in data management. With modern collaboration tools, data must be shared amongst teams seamlessly yet securely.

2. Growth of Shadow IT

Next challenge is the rise of “Shadow IT.” This happens when the staff’s productivity applications are used on workplace machines and their personal devices, often without informing the IT managers. This might make your devices prone to malicious attacks if the hackers bypass system security and access sensitive data in these devices.

In both the above cases, the public sector corporations need to train and educate the staff to hone up their skillset, so they rightly understand the risks involved and comply with the highest standard of ISMS (Information Security Management Systems).

Public services may want to leverage government’s digital transformation initiatives for their numerous benefits, but this should never mean compromising with the security of citizens, users, and organizations altogether.

3. Budget Constraints

Budget constraints are significant challenges in the public sector, where IT managers are expected to adopt everything with minimal budget. This includes transforming digitally, bringing in latest methodologies, and cutting off outdated systems- all with a limited budget.

4. Skills Gap

When it comes to cybersecurity, there’s a considerable amount of skills gap in the public sector. In 2021, the cybersecurity sector is expected to have over 3 million unfilled vacancies. This goes to show that demand is highly outstepping the supply.

Besides, the organizations are expected to prove ROI to drive funding, and this attitude forces leaders to seek profitable ventures instead of better training and preventative technologies.

5. Work Culture

Often, public sector agencies have outdated legacy systems and the same traditional work culture going on for years and years. Hence, the team may not have a positive attitude towards newer technologies.

As data volume increases, the pipeline goes through digital transformation, more applications run on cloud, and virtual world evolves rapidly. Seeing this, the public sector networks must also grow every year. But, existing legacy systems struggle with the complexity and scale of market demand.

Public sector tends to majorly rely on proven solutions and have concerns regarding the security of new technologies, thereby restricting network expansion. This can be problematic as users will want to have mobile access to government services and their own data one day.

How to tackle the Cybersecurity Challenges in the Public Sector?

The well-known attack “WannaCry” would have been prevented if users installed software patches.

The primary reason for poor cybersecurity is carelessness of staff and failing to follow standard security policies. Around 60% cybersecurity breaches in the UK happen due to human error. To avoid this, corporations don’t just need policies but also must follow policies, invest in training and bring new security technologies into their workflows. IT leaders need to take cybersecurity seriously and make substantial changes by hiring the right professionals to secure their IT integrity.

Growing technology demand requires the public sector to leverage bigger, flexible networks involving virtual and mobile devices.

Tackling these challenges does not simply mean upgrading systems and investing money. Instead, the public sector has to undergo a major cultural shift by considering cybersecurity at every step of their pipeline. They need to close the loopholes caused due to human error, which can be done by sponsoring the right cybersecurity experts.



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