Safety first: it's an oft-repeated workplace slogan. As a government organization, you simply can’t afford to let the truth and power of that sentiment become a cliche. You stay vigilant in your physical building with security personnel and clear policies and procedures. And likewise, your website needs to be protected with the best cybersecurity available.
As your digitized services continue to increase, so does your responsibility to fortify your website’s security. And unfortunately, most government websites’ security lags far behind those in the private sector.
There are many reasons for this disparity. Government organizations typically have limited time, staff, and budget. Legitimate concern about the overwhelming complexity of upgrading (and maintaining) cybersecurity can be an even more significant obstacle.
The good news? When you work with an expert government website vendor, you don’t handle your cybersecurity alone. A qualified vendor can take the weighty responsibility off your shoulders — and keep your site from getting hacked.
Protect Your Citizens’ Data From These Five Types of Cyberattacks
Public sector websites — and the citizens’ data they collect — are often the targets of malicious cyberattacks. Generally, hacks fall into one of these five categories.
Man in the Middle (MITM)
A MITM attack attempts to steal personal information such as login credentials, account details, and credit card numbers as they are being entered or transmitted. Essentially, it’s information interception, decryption, and theft.
MITM attacks are less common now, but they are still real threats. A cybercriminal can spoof IP addresses, hijack email, or eavesdrop on public Wi-Fi, amongst other things.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
DDoS is the most frequent kind of cyberattack. Web platforms get flooded with spurious requests, and the web server becomes overwhelmed and stops responding. It’s like a giant traffic jam that prevents regular cars from reaching their destinations.
These types of attacks might be initiated by “Script kiddies” (amateurs who indiscriminately use existing software to “hack”) or bad actors based in foreign countries. DDoS attacks can result in slow or unavailable service, which can impact and frustrate an entire community.
Ransomware is a form of malware (malicious software) that renders files useless by encrypting them. Users or organizations that are “ransomwared” may end up paying huge sums to have their files restored. Data theft can be used to further incentivize victims to pay the ransom.
Ransomware is becoming a leading, visible type of malware. These kinds of cyberattacks can cause massive damage to organizations and cripple public services.
Spoofing & Phishing
Spoofing and phishing attacks are ways to gain unauthorized access to technology systems. In both types of attacks, legitimate users may be redirected to malicious websites disguised to look legitimate, sometimes using very sophisticated means. In either form of attack, the purpose is to obtain useful information, like login credentials, enabling attackers access to sensitive municipal systems and the data they store.
SQL injection attacks
These are attacks that involve injecting malicious code into a database through an SQL query. This type of attack isn’t as common as it can be challenging to implement by attackers. Protecting against SQL injection attacks means you should use code and database best practices, like using prepared statements and parameterized queries, and regularly update and patch your database software. Running up-to-date software with modern database and code management practices is one of your best protections
Government Websites Can Be More Vulnerable To Cyberattacks
You would assume government websites would be the most secure. But the truth is startling: regular citizens’ data may be more secure on a local coffee shop’s website than the local county’s website.
Why is this the case? The vulnerability of some government websites is due to some formidable obstacles.
The pandemic accelerated the shift of essential government services online. The underlying infrastructure often was (and is) too inadequate and insecure to handle it.
In a day and age where citizens manage almost all aspects of their lives online, the government isn’t keeping up. Many government organizations aren’t on the cloud. Most state and local government websites struggle with basic usability issues — and complex security issues.
Whatever the size of your government organization, chances are that you are understaffed and working on a tight budget. Even in major cities with multiple cybersecurity officers and bigger budgets, mitigating risk for dozens of public-facing internet applications is an enormous task.
Case in Point: Baltimore Ransomware Attack
In 2019, Baltimore was the victim of a ransomware attack. Hackers held the city’s infrastructure (servers and email) and demanded 3 Bitcoin for the release of each of the 13 systems ($76,280). The attackers threatened to permanently wipe out the city’s data.
Baltimore had to revert back to manual processes while the issue was mitigated — an $18.2 million dollar clean up. The only site that stayed online was the city’s website, hosted and protected by Interpersonal Frequency. Certainly, a sturdy infrastructure and reliable resources could have spared Baltimore heartache, inconvenience, and even humiliation.
Expertly Defend Your Government Website
When you have a strong hosting vendor, you don’t need to be a cybersecurity expert. A firm like Interpersonal Frequency can ensure your citizens’ data is protected with our security-first approach.
Remediate Your Site’s Vulnerabilities with Top-Notch Solutions
- Fulcrum, our hosting platform, is reliable and built for citizen-centered websites. Fulcrum has never been compromised. Whitelisting, end-to-end encryption, continuous updates, and constant monitoring are all baked in. Fulcrum protects against reported attacks — and also deflects attacks before they make an impact.
- Drupal, our content management platform, is open-source and has an expansive community of developers actively monitoring its code. That’s part of why it’s widely used in the public escort market, public sector market—including at the federal level for organizations like the House of Representatives, NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Homeland Security. Our team secures our interfaces through our least trust or a no trust model, and we manage all Drupal and module upgrades for our clients, confirming their security before implementation.
- Security patch management. We handle all security updates automatically, including pre-planned security parties to apply patches as fast as possible. Because we monitor our sites 24x7, we can discover and patch a specific vulnerability like log4j expeditiously.
Mitigate Breaches of Your Site’s Security
- Continuous automated and human monitoring. We watch for suspicious activity, every day, all day.
- Gather relevant information to pass on to authorities. We know we can keep your site safe. When we can observe suspicious activity that might be helpful for the FBI, we report it.
5 Ways to Prepare Your Civic Site for High-Traffic Events"
Here are several steps you can take to prepare for high traffic on your government website:
- First, identify potential high-traffic events. Anticipate any events that may lead to an increase in traffic on your government website, such as elections, natural disasters (e.g., fire or hurricane season), or upcoming policy announcements.
- Test and optimize your website. Before a high-traffic event, it's important to test your website to ensure that it can handle the increased traffic and that it is running efficiently. This may involve conducting load testing to see how your website performs under different traffic levels, and making any necessary optimizations to improve its performance and page-load times.
- Implement caching and content delivery networks (CDNs). Caching and CDNs can help to reduce the load on your servers by storing and serving content from a network of servers located around the world. This improves the performance of your website during high-traffic events. Many providers offer free/reduced cost CDNs for election-related government websites, as well. You should also implement caching like Varnish to serve up infrequently updated website pages.
- If you’re self-hosting, use a load balancer. A load balancer distributes incoming traffic across multiple servers, helping to prevent any single server from becoming overloaded. This can help to ensure that your website remains accessible during high-traffic events. Better yet, move to a managed government-specialist hosting provider like Interpersonal Frequency.
- Monitor your website performance. It's important to continuously monitor your website's performance during high-traffic events to ensure that it is running smoothly. This may involve using tools such as web analytics or monitoring software (we use New Relic, for example) to track the performance of your website in real-time. By monitoring your website's performance, you can identify any issues and take corrective action as needed.
For example, during the most recent election cycle, Interpersonal Frequency took the following steps to ensure all client sites were ready for high traffic:
- We proactively monitored system performance using both automated and manual means to help ensure any outside-of-normal patterns were detected. This included monitoring all ingress/egress, HTTP/s services, and related ports.
- We doubled on-call coverage after business hours with additional team members in case of any issues during election day and the day after.
- We had an additional security consultant available to our customers and our internal teams during election week, who was thankfully not needed.
Our government customers experienced zero Fulcrum-hosted website downtime or service disruptions.
Invest in Control of Your Site’s Security
There’s no way for a single CTO to know every evolving cybersecurity trend. Plus, they’re probably overtasked and undersupported. Hiring another person, investing time in training, and responding to turnover can complicate your site security. It’s hard to balance security needs with limited budgets.
A cyberattack can be devastatingly costly. You could lose data, time online, and the confidence of your citizens. So recruiting expert help can prove to be the most important investment you can make. Here are some action items you can address today:
- Check your basic cybersecurity fundamentals. Are your software and systems up to date with the latest patches and security updates? Is your staff using strong and unique passwords? Where is multi-factor authentication enabled?
- Obtain adequate cybersecurity insurance. This can help defray costs associated with incidents, like helping agencies to cover the costs associated with responding to and recovering from a cyber incident. This can include costs such as legal fees, notification expenses, and the costs of restoring or replacing damaged systems. For example, we include cyber coverage in our contracts in order to protect ourselves and our government clients from the financial impact of a cyber incident.
- Educate employees and vendors using municipal systems on the importance of security and how to identify and avoid potential threats, such as phishing emails or suspicious links.
When you partner up with Interpersonal Frequency, you’ll have the security your site needs. You’ll also maintain the level of access to your site that you need. Plus, you’ll be freed up to manage other aspects of your organization that need your attention.
Ready to talk about how to make your government website secure? We’d love to hear from you.