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Opinion: Bolstering cybersecurity defences in local authorities

James Young, Chief Technology Officer at Cantium Business Solutions, gives his perspective on the challenges faced by local authorities and how they can enhance cybersecurity. As well as addressing current issues, James suggests a forward-thinking approach for authorities to safeguard sensitive data and maintain public trust…

The cybersecurity landscape for local authorities in the UK is complex and ever evolving. Like other government entities, they face a range of cyber threats, each unique to their organisation. Through our work supporting the public sector in achieving PCI DSS, DSPT, PSN accreditations and alignment to the upcoming compliance to NCSC CAF standards, there are however some commonalities when it comes to the challenges they face. These primarily centre around the reliance of legacy IT systems, which may have security vulnerabilities that are not easily patched or updated, the need to protect sensitive and personal data, and the prevalence of ransomware attacks.

black and red laptop computer

Photo by FlyD

A growing threat

The risk of a security breach has become an increasing reality for local authorities. Findings from a recent Freedom of Information request show that almost 1,500 data breaches were disclosed by councils last year, while a recent report from Sefton Council highlighted that it has been fighting off over 30,000 cyber attacks a month. Having commissioned two external reviews of its systems, including assessments by Microsoft and the Local Government Association, Sefton Council found, like many other local authorities across the country, that they were being targeted for compromise of their IT infrastructure.

Keeping users, devices and core infrastructure up to date in large organisations, like county councils which have thousands of employees and large amount of IT equipment, can be challenging. Vulnerability management is a critical aspect of proactively identifying and managing cybersecurity risk for local councils that involves identifying, assessing, prioritising, mitigating and monitoring vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure to protect against potential threats. Effective vulnerability management not only reduces the attack surface of an authority’s systems and applications but also makes it more challenging for attackers to find and exploit vulnerabilities.

Proactive defence

With hundreds of vulnerability instances happening across the IT estates of local authorities, manually identifying threats takes a long time, especially when environments have grown in complexity over the years and more layers of IT have been added and not sufficiently managed or looked after. To minimise the risk of unauthorised access to sensitive data, it’s important that local authorities control and monitor access to devices, systems, and data for employees throughout their employment lifecycle as well as assess incoming threats. Ideally, what local authorities need is clear visibility of their vulnerabilities, and a measure in place that prioritises them in the order they need to be remedied to make the biggest impact.

Vulnerability management platforms, such as Tenable, offer a wide range of benefits for local authorities looking to enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect their IT infrastructure. Not only do they provide a comprehensive view of the local authorities IT environment, including devices, applications and services, but this level of visibility also helps IT teams to understand their attack surface and identify any potential vulnerabilities.

This frees up in-house IT professionals to focus on more strategic and proactive tasks, such as delivering new functionality or effectively maintaining the IT estate. By deploying a platform that continuously monitors for vulnerabilities in real-time, the need to carry out manual assessments is reduced, speeding up the vulnerability discovery process, so that local authorities can stay vigilant against evolving threats and emerging vulnerabilities.

The ultimate goal of a vulnerability management platform is to reduce the authority’s overall cybersecurity risk by identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Breaches can be expensive and managing vulnerabilities can lead to cost savings in various ways, such as reducing the need for costly incident response, litigation and regulatory fines associated with data breaches. It also avoids the expense of patching systems after an attack. By streamlining the vulnerability assessment process and prioritising risks, local authorities can use these platforms to help save time and reduce the costs associated with cyber security efforts.

Keeping information safe and secure

Vulnerability management is an ongoing process that requires a proactive approach and commitment to maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture. It’s a fundamental and integral part of a robust cybersecurity strategy and increasingly important for local authorities given the sensitive information they hold and the prevalence of attacks.

By implementing a robust vulnerability management program, local authorities can better protect their IT assets and the sensitive data they manage. It helps them to proactively identify and address security weaknesses, protect data, minimise risks and reduce the potential impact of cyber threats. It’s not just about managing vulnerabilities effectively, enhancing overall cybersecurity posture can help maintain the trust and confidence of the public and partners, whilst also ensuring the organisation is meeting compliance requirements.

High-profile breaches in the local authority sector serve as a reminder that whenever an organisation has valuable data, cyber criminals will attempt to steal it. There are many ways in which data breaches can occur, but having visibility is the first line of defence to help local authorities identify and address weaknesses in their IT infrastructure before cyber criminals can exploit them. If the challenge of identifying, managing and remediating your organisation’s vulnerabilities is something that you would like to get more insight into, then Cantium are perfectly positioned through their partnership with Tenable to support cyber security and vulnerability management in the public sector.

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