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Effectively combating cyber vulnerabilities in the public sector

Effectively combating cyber vulnerabilities in the public sector


By Gerasim Hovhannisyan, CEO & Co-Founder of EasyDMARC

High-profile cyberattacks on governments worldwide, whether directly or indirectly through third-party partners, demonstrate the growing risks supply chain and third-party vulnerabilities pose to public sector businesses. As highlighted by recent breaches, confidential data can be accessible even in governments higher up on the cyber defence index,’ particularly when it comes to vulnerabilities throughout partnership networks. 

The public sector’s unique cybersecurity challenges

Public sector institutions store massive volumes of sensitive data – an irresistible target for hackers. Information like medical records, social security numbers, infrastructure access controls, and law enforcement evidence can offer substantial potential payouts to adversaries.

Supply chain assaults, where attackers indirectly infiltrate organisations via shared systems, are a particular risk for public sector bodies as they rely on an expansive network of technology vendors.

Additionally, even well-trained end users continue posing significant breach risks. Despite cybersecurity awareness briefings, targeted phishing attempts over email or SMS leveraging social engineering tactics and current events persist as a primary infection vector. Expertly crafted messages, increasingly developed using generative AI tools, can bypass even well-trained employees at the wrong moment. Unfortunately, this one successful incursion can degrade security department-wide.

Combined, these systemic problems significantly increase the impact and likelihood of public sector breaches at a time when cyberattacks are on the rise. However, with sensitive public data at stake, prioritising cybersecurity budgets and policies offers critical protection.

Building Proactive Defences

Given hackers’ proven ability to circumvent conventional security controls, public sector organisations, particularly those holding sensitive data, must architect defences assuming networks are continuously under attack. This starts with integrated governance centring threat perspectives into all policies—from risk assessments, vendor terms, and infrastructure monitoring to incident response.

Supply chain risk management plays a crucial role in auditing partners’ devices, access policies, and security controls. Rigorous cyber hygiene measures, such as maintaining updated asset inventories, quickly patching systems, filtering web gateways, and requiring multi-factor logins for services facing the internet, also create important friction against attacks.

Ongoing user security education helps counter socially engineered access techniques. Email authentication checks against spoofing via DMARC, DKIM and SPF likewise block most basic phishing messages from reaching inboxes.

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Ultimately, even a multilayered cybersecurity strategy grounded in governance, technology, and workforce training cannot guarantee complete protection. As threats evolve, organisations must remain vigilant, embrace an assumed breach mindset, and focus on minimising data access and speeding responses to security events. Robust prevention is crucial, but resilience is also vital.

Detecting and Responding to Successful Attacks

Despite continuously advancing prevention efforts, the sophistication of modern attacks paired with increasingly complex supply chains means public sector breaches will continue to remain prevalent. However, the harm stemming from compromises relates directly to institutional readiness in detection, response, remediation and communication capabilities.

While strong technology controls provide front-line defences, public sector bodies must assume that some attacks will eventually bypass security measures.

This incentivises effective post-breach response plans, which outline critical steps in containment, impact analysis, forensic investigation, system recovery, and augmenting impacted controls. Detailed protocols allow swift, coordinated reactions that limit damage. Plan testing via simulated breaches creates muscle memory for smooth executions under crisis.

Likewise, transparency protocols prepare leadership communication strategies, balancing public trust interests with avoiding further exploitation of revealed vulnerabilities. However, after significant incidents, delayed or opaque disclosures risk magnifying citizen outrage and institutional reputational damage. Quick, clear statements accepting responsibility while demonstrating meaningful improvement commitments better uphold social contracts even when attacks succeed.

The Path to Public Sector Resilience

Without elevating cybersecurity through policies and funding that enable continuous modernisation, third-party oversight, advanced threat monitoring, and resilient incident response, citizens’ data entrusted to government departments remains endangered. This erodes institutional reputations and public trust over time.

However, public sector entities can forge defences resilient to periodic failures by architecting systems around breach expectations rather than reactive hopes alongside collective responsibility across officials, partners, and informed citizens.

Through leadership, commitments to transparency, vigilance, and coordination with vendors, government cybersecurity governance can still uphold duties around safeguarding constituent privacy even against persistent threats destined to eventually succeed. True security in unity and readiness across people, processes and technologies responding to inevitable attacks.


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