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Cybersecurity and Government: Safeguarding Digital Landscapes in the Modern Age

February 07, 2024
Team of IT Programers Working on Desktop Computers in Data Center System Control Room.

In the digital world, a country’s economic vitality and national security rely on a resilient and secure cyberspace. But over the years, cybercrimes have unfortunately increased in both frequency and complexity.1 Specifically, cyber threats have increased for government institutions and agencies that are integral to its citizens' daily functions, threatening the way we live and work.

To protect against the disastrous effects of cybersecurity incidents, governments must strive to strengthen cybersecurity measures and mitigate national security threats. From federal government networks to your local town's computer systems, everyone needs to be aware of the risks of poor cyber defense.

Read on to discover the possible impacts of national cyber breaches and strategies that nations can use to manage cybersecurity risks.

The Potential Impact of Cybercrimes on National Security

In state-sponsored cyber warfare, a country carries out malicious cyber activities to penetrate another country’s computer systems and network. This poses a huge national security threat in many ways and can be just as harmful (if not more so) than a physical attack.2

However, major cyber breaches aimed at shutting down government services don’t need to be strictly nation-sponsored. Nowadays, non-state criminal organizations and individual bad actors have advanced technical skills and sufficient financial resources to execute disruptive breaches.3 A successful attack comes with serious consequences, some of which are listed below.

Disruption of Critical Infrastructure

Cyberattacks on vital infrastructure, such as power grids, transportation systems, military networks, pipelines and healthcare systems, can significantly disrupt essential services. For instance, the cyber attack on Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 left about 250 thousand residents in a blackout for several hours.4 This causes immense confusion and fear, because it has an immediate and potentially dire impact on citizens' lives.

Intellectual Property Theft

When cybercrimes are successful, they enable criminals to infiltrate government agencies and steal sensitive data from classified documents. For example, when SolarWinds (a company that offers IT management solutions to government agencies and private companies) was breached in 2020, the primary concern was that cybercriminals would gain confidential information from federal agencies, including the U.S. Treasury, The Department of Homeland Security and the Justice and Energy departments. Access to classified data could give a country’s enemies a strategic, military, economic or political advantage.5

Election Interference

Cyber threats can undermine electoral legitimacy in two ways. First, malicious actors may target election-related technologies to manipulate election outcomes, such as tampering with voting machines. Second, they may spread disinformation about the integrity of the electoral process and sow distrust among voters, causing them to question other operations and motives from their governments.6

Financial Losses

According to Statista, the U.S. government lost over $13 billion in 2018 due to cybercrimes.2 In 2023, cyberattacks have resulted in losses amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars.7 This money could have otherwise been used to fund critical sectors of the economy.

How Governments Can Combat Cybersecurity Risks

Below are some top strategies governments can use to mitigate cyber threats and strengthen their data protection measures.

Create Comprehensive Legislative Frameworks

Developing robust cybersecurity regulations helps governments prevent, investigate and quickly respond to cybercrimes instead of always reacting to a crisis. When establishing the legal frameworks, governments can determine which elements of cybersecurity they want to legislate and which aspects they’ll only provide standard guidelines for without imposing legal punishment. Additionally, countries should strive to create comprehensive federal government cybersecurity laws that define types of cybercrimes and the corresponding penalties. Once the data protection laws are set, the government needs to update them regularly to keep up with the changing nature of cybercrimes.3

Develop a Dedicated National Cybersecurity Agency

The government can establish an agency responsible for driving national cybersecurity initiatives. Some responsibilities of this body may include defining cybersecurity standards and spreading cyber awareness among citizens. In the United States, this is the responsibility of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

After establishing a dedicated agency, the government should empower it by providing sufficient technical skills and financial resources. The goal is to equip the agency with what’s necessary to fulfill its duties.3

Foster Local and International Partnerships

Since malicious activities are ever-changing, governments can form robust partnerships locally and internationally. For instance, the dedicated national cybersecurity agency can collaborate with other government entities, local cybersecurity companies and national cyber agencies in other countries.

The aim of each partnership is to share threat intelligence, develop a more comprehensive assessment of cyber risks and create robust cybersecurity standards that are globally recognized. As governments worldwide collaborate on preventing and investigating major cybercrimes, they form a unified front that can better combat even the most sophisticated cyber threats.3

Establish a National Cyber Incident Response Plan (and Regularly Update It)

Unfortunately, cybercrimes are inevitable. Therefore, every country needs an incident response and recovery plan. According to America’s Cyber Defense Agency, an incident response plan outlines the national approach to addressing serious cyber attacks. It describes the role of different stakeholders—private sector organizations, local governments and federal agencies—in addressing cyber incidents and how they work together for an integrated response. Also, the plan includes lessons the government has learned from real-world cyber attacks.

Because cybercriminals devise new, more complicated ways of compromising computer systems every year, a country’s incident response plan shouldn’t be static. Governments should regularly update their mitigation strategies and cybersecurity policies with the changing nature of cybercrimes and the places in which they occur (e.g., on mobile devices vs. desktop computers).3

Challenges Governments Face in Fighting Cybersecurity Threats

Even if governments do their best to prevent malicious cyber activities by following the suggestions listed above, their efforts face multiple challenges.

Remote Execution of Cyberattacks

Hackers don’t need to be physically present to target a victim, and they don't even need to be in the same section of the world. They can execute malicious code remotely through the internet to attack computer systems from anywhere and remain anonymous. This makes it difficult to track, capture and prosecute cybercriminals.

Rather than trying to handle it all independently, coordinating with other countries can help governments fight local and international cyberattacks.7 Other countries may have intel or capabilities that even a federal government does not, and they can deploy defense solutions from elsewhere in the world.

Technological Advancements and Adaptation

Modern technology, such as AI and machine learning, enables governments to fortify their cyber defenses. However, cybercriminals can exploit these technologies to execute threats with larger scales and more sophistication.8

To overcome this challenge, governments should invest in cybersecurity research. This enables nations to harness emerging technologies in their cyber defense strategies. Sometimes, this can mean hiring a diverse workforce that contains previous cybercriminals and malicious cyber actors.

Budget Constraints

According to Cisco, budget constraints are the greatest challenge in a government's efforts to combat cyber threats.9 Allocating resources for cybersecurity initiatives takes funds away from other national operations. This can hinder the implementation of robust defense measures and make it challenging to keep pace with the dynamic nature of cyber threats.

Countries can address this challenge by prioritizing cybersecurity and recognizing it as an essential investment in national security. With sufficient financial resources, government agencies responsible for cybersecurity can recruit experts to improve cyber initiatives. They can also deploy advanced cyber defense technologies and ensure continuous improvement of cybersecurity infrastructure.

Unlock Doors To Higher-Level Job Positions With an MS in Cybersecurity

Since much of national security is now tied to cybersecurity, government agencies and government partners are keenly invested in finding the right professionals to work with them on cyber prevention, protection and defense. But this industry requires a deep understanding of cybersecurity frameworks, softwares and defense strategies that can't be taught in only a short course or bootcamp.

An online Master of Science in Cybersecurity from Yeshiva University will give you the chance to deepen your knowledge of cybersecurity, gain the skills necessary to become a leader in your field and take on more complex projects with potentially ground-breaking impacts. You also get an opportunity to expand your professional network by interacting with people on the same career journey and with a similar mindset.

Since the program is administered online, you can access the curriculum whenever it’s most convenient. This enables you to pursue a master’s degree even if you have work commitments, family responsibilities or other obligations.

Contact an admissions outreach advisor today to see how you can start preparing for a brighter future.