Last week, Albania woke up to a rude surprise as online government services became inaccessible for public use. Thanks to a synchronized cyberattack from outside the country, Albania’s National Agency for Information Society (AKSHI) temporarily shut down public services and government websites usually accessible via the internet. The website of the Prime Minister’s Office, the country’s Parliament, and the widely used governmental portal e-Albania were among those taken down to prevent damage to the information system.
In its press statement, AKSHI said, “ The National Agency is currently working together with the Microsoft team, the Jones Group International team, and the teams of Albanian companies in the ICT field to prevent this cyberattack from damaging or compromising the Albanian systems of information.”
As the government works towards restoring normalcy, citizens were advised to anticipate service disruptions until “the enemy attacks are neutralized.”
In May 2022, Albania had closed in-person desk services in government offices and mandated the use of digital services via e-Albania. The government portal was used by all Albanians and even foreign residents for a wide range of civic services. Now with the portal taken offline due to the cyberattack, citizens are left struggling with little access to essential services.
Cyber Threats to the Public Services Sector Are Increasing
The attack on Albanian government systems is yet another alarming incident drawing attention to the unprecedented surge in cybercrime in the public services sector. Earlier this year, Costa Rica suffered a string of crippling ransomware attacks on its government systems that cut off the country’s online public services, healthcare, and foreign trade. In response to these attacks, Costa Rica was forced to declare a “national emergency.”
According to the 2022 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report, ransomware attempts among government customers rose a staggering 1,885% — more than double the increase seen in healthcare, education, and retail combined. Considering how a cyberattack can easily disrupt an entire nation’s public services and security should compel all government organizations to reassess their security infrastructures and take the right measures to plug vulnerabilities and security gaps.
President Biden’s May 2021 Executive Order paved the way towards this goal, urging the government and the private sector to collectively work towards modernizing and implementing strong cybersecurity standards in federal government systems.
Steps Government Organizations Can Take to Improve the Security Posture
While there are many approaches to building strong cyber defenses, here are three important steps that government agencies can take to build cyber-resilience and protect digital infrastructures.
Recognize that identity is the heart of digital security
Digital transformation and cloud migration have radically changed the face of IT infrastructures today. Data, applications, and workloads have moved beyond traditional data centers and now reside in a perimeter-less environment. Protecting distributed assets necessitates a location-agnostic approach to cybersecurity that is not dictated by the traditional network perimeter.
Identity-based security makes identity the new security perimeter. It enables organizations to create a cybersecurity mesh, where security is extended where it’s most needed, whether it is on-premises, cloud, or the edge. In other words, digital identities help protect every asset by building individual micro-perimeters wherever they are. As digital transformation advances and IT infrastructures grow more complex, identity-focused security will become a key driver for robust digital security.
Pay close attention to machine identities
All applications, workloads, and devices in an organization should be protected by machine identities, commonly known as digital certificates. These machine identities help check two critical boxes on the security checklist – authentication and encryption. Given the distributed nature of assets, machine identities play a pivotal role in ensuring safe network access and enabling secure machine-to-machine communications. Simply put, without digital certificates, secure internet communication and transactions wouldn’t be possible.
Yet, very few organizations recognize and understand the importance of machine identities. While there is a greater focus on identity and access management (IAM), most organizations continue to focus only on human identities. According to the 2022 Ponemon Report: The State of Certificate Lifecycle Management in Global Organizations, 52% of respondents experienced one or more security incidents or data breaches related to poorly governed machine and application identities in the past two years.
Considering a majority of sensitive corporate assets today exist outside the perimeter, having reliable authentication controls and data protection measures is crucial for data security. To that end, government agencies must pay equal or even more attention to machine identities and how they are managed.
Invest in automation
As identity-first security takes center stage, government agencies must revamp their machine identity management systems. As the use of digital certificates increases, certificate management will proportionally grow more complex. Managing thousands of distributed certificates using inefficient and error-prone manual processes will leave organizations with little control over machine identities, therefore, little control over mission-critical assets. In a nutshell, poor certificate management is a cybersecurity problem in the making.
On the contrary, a certificate lifecycle automation solution reduces the complexity of certificate management and provides an easy-to-use framework for organizations to perform certificate lifecycle functions. It helps establish well-defined processes, enforce uniform policies, and standardize certificate management across the enterprise. By automating certificate management, organizations can gain top-down visibility of machine identities, save time spent on repetitive manual processes, eliminate human errors, improve compliance, and fortify cybersecurity.
Building Strong and Secure Government Systems Has Never Been More Important
From federal to state and local, threat actors continue to target critical government infrastructure. Cyber warfare is a living reality, and the implications are more severe than we can imagine, including service disruption, loss of citizen data and national secrets, economic and political instability, and even a threat to human lives. As government agencies propel their digital transformation efforts, it is increasingly important to fortify cyber defenses by investing in comprehensive, identity-based security solutions that can guarantee secure and trusted digital connections for the public.
If this spurs you to action, check out AppViewX CERT+, a turnkey solution for all enterprise PKI needs. It helps discover, monitor, analyze, orchestrate and fully automate certificate lifecycle management and key management solutions to prevent critical outages and data breaches. CERT+ simplifies enterprise PKI management and also bolsters the organization’s security posture.
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