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Boosting Confidence in Governments’ Cybersecurity

The growing complexity of IT enterprises and the cyberthreats facing them are eroding governments’ confidence in their ability to assess and mitigate cybersecurity risk, according to the latest Global Cybersecurity Assurance Report Card. The overall score for governments across nine countries dropped three percentage points from 2016, to 63 percent, putting government last among the seven sectors surveyed. The key to boosting confidence is the ability to see infrastructure and monitor activity.

The key to boosting confidence is the ability to see infrastructure and monitor activity

The annual report card, created by Tenable with research partner CyberEdge Group, does not measure actual security status. It assesses the confidence of information security professionals in their ability to protect their organizations. So a low score does not necessarily mean poor security. But it does show that government security professionals are acutely aware of the growing challenges they face.

Surprisingly, money shortages rank low on the list of security concerns. The real hurdles are taming the complexity of the environment and gaining visibility into the network.

The nuts and bolts

The report card is based on online surveys of 700 IT security professionals from 19 business sectors and governments in nine countries. The United States accounted for about 39 percent of respondents. Government accounted for a little more than five percent of those surveyed.

The study assesses confidence in two broad areas: Ability to assess risks within the enterprise and security assurance—an organization’s ability to mitigate threats based on executive and board-level commitment. Overall confidence in Security Assurance dropped from 70 percent in 2016 to 67 percent, and the Risk Assessment score dropped from 63 percent to 59 percent. Scores were down in just about every category for every sector.

The reason is the increasing complexity and decentralization of the IT environment and the complexity of the threats facing it. “The days of a well-defined network perimeter that can be secured and defended are long over,” the study concludes, and traditional security tools no longer are sufficient.

Governments’ strengths and weaknesses

Governments showed the lowest level of confidence in their cybersecurity among the sectors measured. But the results showed strengths as well as weaknesses.

Strengths

  1. Measuring security effectiveness (B-)
  2. Viewing network risks continuously (C+)
  3. Conveying risks to executives and board members (C-)

Weaknesses

  1. Aggregating risk intelligence (F)
  2. Assessing cloud environments (F)
  3. Assessing DevOps environments (F)

What’s the problem?

The number one challenge is the “overwhelming cyber threat environment”

When respondents were asked to rate the challenges they face, lack of budget came out near the bottom of the list. The number one challenge is the “overwhelming cyber threat environment.” This was followed by security awareness among employees and a lack of network visibility caused by the proliferation of personal devices in the workplace and shadow IT.

I am more familiar with the U.S. government than other governments around the world, but I suspect that the cybersecurity challenges they face are similar. It is not so much a lack of money hindering government security (although that is always a problem) as it is a cumbersome budget process that slows IT refresh cycles, swells legacy infrastructure, and delays acquisition of security technology and manpower.

The result is a lack of visibility into the infrastructure and an inability to monitor activity, which makes it difficult to understand and secure the IT environment.

Boosting confidence

Despite problems, there are signs of improvement. The U.S. government is moving away from prescriptive, process-based security toward results-oriented programs. This is reflected in the shift from periodic assessment of static controls to a focus on continuous monitoring and risk management, as illustrated by the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program.

This program provides the tools to tame the IT environment by creating visibility into agency networks, allowing them to discover resources and monitor, analyze and understand activity. Risks can then be identified, prioritized and mitigated. The ability to see, understand and control the network should give cybersecurity professionals greater confidence in their ability to do their jobs.

The ability to see, understand and control the network should give cybersecurity professionals greater confidence in their ability to do their jobs

More information

You can get the detailed results of the survey in the full 2017 Global Cybersecurity Assurance Report Card, and compare it with results from the 2016 report card. Or listen to an on-demand webinar from Tenable.