What States Can Do in the Face of Increased Cybersecurity Threats

The state of South Carolina, which recently suffered a data breach of its Department of Revenue (DOR) computers, has learned some hard lessons from the cybersecurity snafu. In addition to exposing millions of the state’s taxpayers to identity theft, the breach has left South Carolina’s governing body in an embarrassing situation, according to an article posted on www.usatoday.com.

Worse yet, what should have only cost the state about $25,000 has turned into a $12 million nightmare so far. A large part of the problem is that the state had not encrypted the social security numbers of its residents on the DOR site. This was done under guidance from the IRS, which didn’t recommend the encryption of such data.

State officials, in turn, also failed to use a multi-password system to allow access to its data. State officials have stated that one of the biggest lessons learned from the breach was that state agencies have to go above and beyond recommended protections and devise a plan that best works for them. The following is a list of seven actions governors can take to help prevent intrusion of state resources, according to the Website www.govtech.com:

1. Make Cybersecurity a Top Priority: Do so by establishing areas of responsibility and authority within state departments. Also, make each department transparent so that areas that need improvement are identified. Tie all departments together so that each knows what is going on with the others and cost can be kept down by using one overreaching program.

2. Develop a Strategic Plan for Cybersecurity: Each state must develop a cybersecurity strategy based on its needs. The most important aspects of any such plan include protections for individuals, businesses, and government entities, with the most important being the safeguarding of its citizens’ data.

3. Provide Training and Awareness: In order to make any cybersecurity plan work, employees need training, as well as an awareness of what their responsibilities are. The weakest link of any agency, private or public, lies in the actions its employees take, such as opening suspect attachments. Making them aware of the dangers of such actions remains important.

4. Maintain Constant Vigilance: Those who seek to infiltrate a network never sleep, and neither should employees and managers. A constant vigilance is required using qualified staff and effective tools to keep watch on networks.

5. Develop a Response Plan to Breaches: One of the main criteria for dealing with a security breach involves developing a cyber disruption response plan. Crisis managers should approach this as they would any natural disaster, such as a flood, tornado, or other serious crisis.

6. Test any Response Plan: Once established, any response plan needs testing to ensure that it works on all fronts. Furthermore, any problem areas need identifying, as well as refining before the next test is conducted.

7. Only Work with Trusted Partners: State agencies should work together with trusted partners in both the public and private sector. This way everyone can learn from the others’ mistakes and help improve the overall state of readiness for a cyber attack.

For more information about how to handle increased cybersecurity threats, visit: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/27/hacker-south-carolina/1951719/