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12 Takeaways from Two SLED Leaders on How Their Industry Is Leading the way in Cybersecurity.

Introduction & Summary

In the swiftly changing digital terrain of today, safeguarding sensitive information and critical infrastructure against cyber threats is paramount for both state and federal government agencies. With President Biden’s recent Executive Order spotlighting the need for cybersecurity resilience, agencies are compelled to fortify their systems against emerging threats.

To delve deeper into this domain, vTech Solution had a sit-down conversation with two distinguished professionals:

1) Subi Muniasamy, the State Chief Technology Officer at Georgia Technology Authority,

2) and Montae Brockett, the Chief Information Security Officer/Deputy Chief Information Officer at DC DHCF.

The topic of discussion? How Maximizing Public-Private Partnerships makes for an Unbeatable Cybersecurity Resilience Solution.

Who Should Read This Article:

– Cybersecurity professionals keen on discovering tips to fortify government cybersecurity systems through collaborative efforts.

– State Government agencies and organizations eager to augment their cybersecurity posture through innovative strategies.

– Technology leaders and decision-makers intrigued by the potential of advanced technologies like AI and Zero Trust Architecture in bolstering digital defenses.

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vTech Solution: When you hear the term Zero-Trust, what is your definition on what Zero Trust is or isn’t?

Montae Brockett: Zero Trust is a security solution that entails no implicit trust for any entity, whether inside or outside network parameters. It is based on the principles of never trusting outright and always verifying. It’s important to understand Zero Trust as a mindset, not just a one-size-fits-all solution. It is a continuous journey, where each organization must adapt and implement various capabilities over time.

Subi Muniasamy: I completely agree with Montae. Zero Trust is not a new concept; it has long been integrated within various organizations. To visualize, imagine a character in a movie who passes through several layers of security, each layer requiring further validation, similar to matching a half-torn dollar bill to gain access. This approach has always existed, but it’s now more prevalent than ever, embodying a lifestyle where security is no longer an add-on but integral to all interactions. Every individual, organization, and nation must embrace this vigilant stance, as we live in a world where integrated security is not optional but essential.

vTech Solution: As we look from the past, present, and future, what emerging technologies pose the greatest security risks for agencies, and how can these risks be mitigated?

Montae Brockett: In my view, it’s not just emerging technologies that pose risks; existing technologies continue to present significant challenges as well. Particularly, the evolution of AI. It introduces complexities, as it can potentially be used to circumvent established security controls. Additionally, the proliferation of IoT devices represents a substantial risk. These devices often lack rigorous security, making them vulnerable. Many organizations struggle with identifying and properly securing these devices, thereby exposing themselves to potential breaches.

Moreover, as agencies increasingly migrate to cloud services, the responsibility of managing security risks shifts towards cloud providers. However, it’s crucial for agencies to not solely depend on these providers for security. Effective management of configurations and a proactive stance in identifying risks within cloud environments are essential steps in mitigating vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

vTech Solution: What are the critical success factors for implementing and sustaining a zero-trust security culture in agencies?

Montae Brockett: Implementing a zero-trust culture hinges primarily on leadership support. It’s essential that agency leaders not only endorse but fully understand the benefits and challenges of zero trust. This commitment should align with the organization’s resources to facilitate effective implementation. Furthermore, comprehensive planning and developing a clear roadmap are crucial. These elements help agencies measure success, particularly in meeting mandates like the zero-trust executive order issued by President Biden.

From a technical standpoint, a robust identity and access management framework is vital. Agencies must adopt a data-centric approach, ensuring proper isolation at the network layer and understanding the capabilities outlined in frameworks like Gartner NIST through 800-207. Utilizing security orchestration tools to automate responses and implementing dynamic policies through policy enforcement points, such as firewalls and IDS systems, are also pivotal.

This journey requires continuous improvement and year-to-year enhancements, reinforcing the importance of viewing zero trust not as a one-time implementation but as an ongoing commitment.

vTech Solution: Once we implement zero trust, how often should we conduct audits to ensure that the implementation is effective and that we are sustaining the culture we’ve established?

Montae Brockett: It’s essential to maintain continuous diagnostic and monitoring capabilities, utilizing your existing security tools, such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions. These tools come with correlation rules that are part of best practices and should be continuously processed. While yearly improvements are crucial, auditing should be based on

specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that reflect your security posture. For example, monitoring the number of external accesses to your network resources from different countries can be an effective indicator of how well the zero-trust security measures are being implemented. Regular review of network traffic is also vital to assess and adjust your zero-trust strategies effectively. This approach ensures that audits are not just annual events but part of an ongoing evaluation and enhancement process.

vTech Solution: What role do employees play in cultivating cyber resilience and adopting a Zero Trust mindset within agencies?

Subi Muniasamy: Employees are crucial in the successful adoption and maintenance of a Zero Trust security framework. Each employee, without exception, must embrace and actively participate in the Zero Trust mindset. A single error, such as connecting an unauthorized device to the network, can undermine the entire security infrastructure, regardless of the robustness of the governance and technical safeguards in place.

Employee training and awareness are foundational to cultivating a culture of cyber resilience. Each team member needs to be vigilant about seemingly innocuous actions, like installing free software, which often comes with hidden costs, such as compromising data privacy.

Enforcement and regular reinforcement of security protocols are essential. After a security incident, while immediate and intensive corrective actions are typical, it is critical not to let vigilance fade over time. Zero Trust should be as integral and habitual as any daily routine, like personal hygiene.

From a leadership perspective, we need to ensure consistent communication and validation of security practices at all levels. Listening and responding to feedback from every tier of the organization is vital for maintaining security vigilance. Just as quality is everyone’s responsibility in an organization, so too is security. Overall, fostering a Zero Trust culture is an ongoing effort that requires regular engagement, education, and enforcement across all levels of the agency.

vTech Solution: How can agencies provide effective cybersecurity training for employees from non-IT backgrounds to prevent security incidents like phishing attacks?

Montae Brockett: Proactive engagement and tailored training are essential to empower employees to safeguard our environment. We cannot expect end users to protect our systems if we haven’t equipped them with a clear understanding of potential threats. It’s crucial to integrate security awareness into their daily routines, meeting them where they are and providing open communication channels for questions and concerns.

From a technical standpoint, optimizing email filtering policies and leveraging AI can enhance our ability to detect and mitigate risks in real-time. While AI raises privacy concerns, it also offers valuable support in combating evolving threats, such as adversarial AI-driven malware. It’s imperative to recognize that no organization is immune to threats and adopt a proactive, adaptive approach to cybersecurity training to stay ahead of potential risks.

vTech Solution: What practical steps can agencies take to transition from a trust-based security model to a Zero Trust architecture?

Montae Brockett: Rather than framing it as a transition, I prefer to see it as leveraging existing resources and aligning them with the pillars of zero trust. It’s crucial to assess the cybersecurity posture comprehensively across all environments, including third-party assessments, to identify areas of risk. Establishing clear policies and leveraging existing technology, such as ZT&A Z

scaler, can expedite the implementation process. By focusing on leveraging partnerships and modern security technology, agencies can effectively progress towards a zero-trust architecture, ensuring alignment with their organization’s critical mission and security objectives.

vTech Solution: How can or should agencies effectively integrate AI-driven technologies into their cybersecurity defense strategies?

Subi Muniasamy: To integrate AI effectively into agency cybersecurity, we must start with a thorough gap analysis to identify areas where AI can add value. It’s essential to understand that AI isn’t a silver bullet but a tool to enhance existing processes. Selecting the right AI technology partner is crucial for success, ensuring customization and alignment with agency needs. Strong proof of concept is necessary to validate the effectiveness of AI solutions before full-scale implementation.

We must also prioritize ethical considerations in AI development and deployment, emphasizing the importance of ethical coding practices and human oversight. Without ethical guidelines and responsible decision-making, AI implementation can lead to unintended consequences. Agencies should focus on low-impact, high-value use cases to build confidence and gradually expand AI integration, ensuring validation and continuous improvement.

Montae Brockett: I concur with Subi’s points. AI is already ingrained in many security tools, leveraging data analytics for threat detection and response. However, caution is warranted, especially concerning sensitive data. Exploring explainable AI and conducting rigorous proof of concepts are essential steps before production deployment. As we mature, AI adoption will extend beyond security to areas like fraud detection in social programs and risk identification in healthcare.

Industry leaders are paving the way with responsible AI frameworks and policies. Government agencies must follow suit, prioritizing human oversight to ensure accurate decision-making.

While AI enhances efficiency, human judgment remains indispensable, particularly in discerning false positives. Integrating AI into cybersecurity defense requires a balanced approach, leveraging its capabilities while upholding ethical standards and human involvement.

vTech Solution: What are the key regulatory and governance challenges associated with implementing AI in agency cybersecurity, and how can they be addressed?

Subi Muniasamy: One challenge lies in the accountability and transparency of AI-generated data, especially concerning government regulations like the Freedom of Information Act. Agencies must navigate the potential consequences of recording and storing AI-generated content, considering its disclosure obligations. Additionally, the lengthy and complex RFP process poses a barrier to AI adoption, with concerns regarding data security and potential leaks further complicating implementation.

Despite these challenges, there are promising use cases for AI in government operations, such as project management and compliance. However, responsible AI deployment requires careful consideration of downstream impacts and regulatory compliance, necessitating a gradual approach to implementation.

Montae Brockett: Regulatory challenges persist in AI integration, emphasizing the continued importance of protecting customer data. Aligning AI deployment with zero-trust principles is crucial, ensuring data protection and policy enforcement. While regulations remain constant, agencies must creatively implement AI technologies to keep pace with advancements while safeguarding security. Automation plays a vital role, but human oversight remains essential for validation and decision-making throughout the integration process.

vTech Solution: Montae, Subi, any final thoughts on fostering a secure environment in daily activities?

Montae Brockett: It’s about being intentional with your strategy, transparent with your team, and adaptable to roadblocks. Despite budget constraints, leverage existing resources and collaborate effectively to detect threats early. Stay updated with threat intelligence and maintain open communication within your team to drive cybersecurity strategy.

vTech Solution: How will AI impact government cybersecurity staffing needs?

Subi Muniasamy: It is going to have a huge impact. We want to hire a lot of people in cybersecurity who use AI. This means that we are going to double our strength fundamentally. So, it has a positive impact. Nobody will be laid off because of this year, and we will hire more people. That is the impact we are going to have.

vTech Solution: Can you share any recent service security incidents or threats your organization has encountered and what lessons were learned?

Subi Muniasamy: Certainly, recent incidents have shown the immense cost of cybersecurity failures, reaching hundreds of millions. Legacy systems lacking backups pose significant risks, leading to irretrievable data loss and system failures. Additionally, ensuring cybersecurity is now akin to standard employee benefits, emphasizing individual responsibility. This shift underscores cybersecurity’s critical role in our daily lives, reflected even in payroll deductions for cyber insurance.

vTech Solution: Montae and Subi, what measures are you taking to strengthen your cybersecurity systems amidst evolving threats?

Montae Brockett: We’re focusing on governance and leveraging security control assessments like OSCAL. Automating compliance as code helps us assess on-premise and cloud resources continuously. We’re fortifying privileged access management for just-in-time resource access, alongside modern technologies like EDR, XDR, and next-gen firewalls, aligning with the zero-trust approach.

Subi Muniasamy: Cybersecurity, akin to breakfast, needs daily attention. Enforcing zero trust requires consistent effort. For a starting point, prioritize cloud security posture management for enhanced visibility and real-time response to security incidents.

Conclusion

The insights from Subi Muniasamy and Montae Brockett underscore the paramount importance of forging public-private partnerships to fortify cybersecurity resilience in federal and state government agencies. Collaboration among cybersecurity professionals, government officials, and tech leaders is pivotal in effectively countering evolving cyber threats.

By embracing innovative strategies and advanced technologies like AI and Zero Trust Architecture, government entities can significantly bolster their cybersecurity posture. The actionable advice shared is invaluable for cybersecurity professionals seeking to enhance federal defenses, federal officials tasked with safeguarding critical infrastructure, and technology leaders keen on leveraging cutting-edge solutions.

In today’s ever-evolving digital environment, where cyber threats continue to evolve, it’s essential for government agencies to take proactive steps and collaborate effectively to outpace potential adversaries. By nurturing strong partnerships between the public and private sectors and adopting cutting-edge cybersecurity strategies, these agencies can strengthen their security measures and establish a resilient defense against emerging threats.

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