As Digital Transformation Soars, Security Is Needed Now More Than Ever

Sascha Giese, head geek at SolarWinds, examines the current cybersecurity readiness of the UK public sector, and how organisations can keep their systems safe

Posted 21 July 2020 by Christine Horton

As public sector organisations continue to digitally transform, the corresponding increase in complexity doesn’t have to negatively impact cybersecurity efforts. However, the more digital an organisation, the more security vulnerabilities come into play.

This year is an example of the challenges that working from home can present in terms of cybersecurity. IT teams have been working to keep their employees safe in every industry, and prevent cybercriminals taking advantage of the unprecedented situation.

Even as many organisations, including in the public sector, slowly return to their offices, working remotely is now more common than ever before, so these security challenges must be addressed for the long term. Security must become a core competency of every tech pro, whether as a self-managed skillset or outsourced to an MSP or MSSP.

To do so, tech pros must develop a complete understanding of their IT environment to identify areas of risk and effectively convey priorities to senior management. Some organisations still simply don’t understand the depth of the cybersecurity risks they face, or worse still, they don’t even realise they may have a problem in the first place.

When cyberattacks occur—and they always do—organisations can feel as though this pulls them back on their digital transformation journey. But with remote working a part of everyday life, some changes can be implemented to ensure targeted attacks are kept to a minimum.

Key security solutions to get started

Having integrated security systems helps organisations with network visibility and increases their ability to cope with a greater attack surface. Applications and devices with built-in security—or, if developing an application, making robust security settings the default option—ensure organisations can be confident their users are protected from malicious threats.

Regular penetration testing is also advisable, as it helps identify potential vulnerabilities and areas where security can be developed. While log management and signature-based deep packet inspection are commonly used already, attacks can still go undetected. When using these kinds of solutions, it’s beneficial to include an intelligence feed covering zero-day threats, as these exploit an unknown computer security vulnerability. Put simply, there’s no known security fix when developers don’t know the problem exists.

Security processes using automation can also help organisations monitor for threats around the clock and develop cyber protections, regardless of the amount of personnel and resources. Good examples of these are tools designed to externally scan web applications to identify security vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting, SQL injection, command injection, path traversal, and insecure server configuration. However, there’s more than just the tools to consider. The people are crucial, too, as is the communication between them. If information about a possible threat is detected, for example, everyone can take steps to minimise risk once they’re aware of it.

Education is the best prevention

So, technology is necessary, but the people working with it are, too. Training and advancing employee cybersecurity skills is vital to help plug the gaps the technology systems will always leave. For instance, introducing staff training on how to recognise scam emails can hugely increase the chances of an organisation avoiding a security breach, and this is an easy option considering most public sector organisations operate on limited budgets.

For most IT specialists, security is already top of mind on a regular basis. The recent SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2020: The Universal Language of IT revealed how for 73 percent of public sector tech pros, IT security management makes up at least 10 percent of their daily responsibilities already. Staffing needs are prioritised in line with this, as they’re now being driven by security and compliance (55 percent), cloud computing (i.e., SaaS, IaaS, PaaS) (53 percent), and hybrid IT (37 percent).

Despite increasing in popularity across most industries, emerging technologies—like artificial intelligence, edge, microservices, and containers—are only named by a collective 18 percent as the biggest influence on staffing needs, highlighting the necessity of prioritising budgets in this sector where they make the most impact.

Sascha Giese, head geek at SolarWinds

Looking at security skills as the top priority, organisations currently focus on development in network security (49 percent), backup and recovery (35 percent), and security information and event management (SIEM) (29 percent). This is unsurprising when you consider organisations aren’t allocating their budget to emerging technologies—particularly as this year’s budgets are being repeatedly re-evaluated in the face of unprecedented economic challenges.

The study also revealed nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents indicated their organisation’s tech budget allocates less than 25 percent of their spending to emerging technologies, again confirming where the current focus lies.

One way in which technology professionals can boost their security expertise to even just a basic level is to take advantage of any quiet times and prioritise their own training through upskilling. Not only would this help maintain good cybersecurity standards, but it also helps the organisation keep digital transformation on track.

Third-party vs. DIY

The public sector, where budgets are usually much smaller and resources can be harder to come by than in the private sector, may consider outsourcing or implementing a managed software solution.

Outsourcing is becoming increasingly popular despite the costs as the benefits tend to outweigh these. By introducing a third-party, organisations can benefit from the latest technologies and software available to tackle the increasing threats. Then there are the experts themselves—people who know security inside and out. Teams of experts are usually available 24/7, ensuring security lapses or vulnerabilities can be responded to immediately regardless of the time of day or night. The public sector is what keeps the country running, so having this level of security expertise constantly available is a comforting reassurance.

On the other hand, not all organisations will have the budget required for outsourcing, while some will prefer to have more control over their security. In these cases, a managed software solution is the better option. Exact specifications vary between vendors, but most will provide intelligence to proactively identify threats, take automated action to mitigate damage, and analyse data to prevent cyberattacks striking again in the future. Though the best solutions will be at the higher end of the price range, some packages on offer may be more affordable than outsourcing. The onus will be on the organisation itself to manage the software and act on the information it produces.

No matter what solutions are put into place, security must be front of mind for all employees, not just the IT teams. Potential attacks will always be just around the corner, so being prepared for the worst is important to ensure the worst can be managed and resolved. To do so, organisations need to identify the most appropriate security measures for them and introduce them sooner rather than later.