For nearly every federal agency, critical IT infrastructure plays a pivotal role. From tax and social security information to connecting military personnel around the world, federal agencies’ networks contain some of the most sensitive, confidential data and are constant targets for cyberthreats. A breach of any of these critical systems would cause millions—perhaps even billions—of dollars in damages and potentially risk countless citizens’ lives.So how can federal agencies protect their critical IT infrastructure?

 

Protect legacy systems

The biggest risk to critical federal IT infrastructure is age. While old-age doesn’t necessarily equal unsecure, legacy systems pose a major risk if not well-maintained. Updating and patching legacy systems can be more difficult, particularly as when professionals familiar with the technology retire and are replaced by younger talent accustomed to newer, shinier technologies.

To defend legacy systems—particularly when upgrading hardware and software remains infeasible—federal agencies should build layers of security around older technologies.This could include air gapping legacy technology so it’s inaccessible via the Internet and thus harder to compromise. However, this strategy should include exploring next-generation firewalls that provide full network visibility and protection at the router- and switch-level. The visibility provided by next-generation firewalls allows IT departments to monitor anomalous behavior at the lowest levels, meaning legacy software can be protected in real-time. 

 

IT lifecycle management

Another crucial step toward protecting critical IT infrastructure is understanding and recognizing the limitations of the federal IT lifecycle. This is the process by which hardware and software are updated and refreshed. It’s when major security gaps are filled, and when redundant technology is replaced with newer, more secure gear. Unfortunately, it’s also where many federal IT programs hit a wall.

While most organizations refresh their technology approximately every two years, federal IT lifecycles often range between three and five. The consequence? Critical portions of an agency’s IT infrastructure can grow outdated well before it can be refreshed.

Limited by such constraints, federal IT departments need to proactively plan their technology purchases with their existing lifecycles in mind, so they can buy the right technology at the right time. How? First, IT decision makers have to stay current about ongoing and future trends, including by reading trade publications, attending industry events and talking to other IT leaders. Additionally, they must also remain updated on their current product set. Where are its vulnerabilities? What does the product set allow them to achieve? Where do they need to invest?

Finally, they need to actively talk to vendors to learn what their technology has in store for the future. The information gathered in such discussions can help you plan what to refresh and when. But don’t limit your discussions to current vendors—their competitors can provide information from a different point of view and perhaps point you in the direction of options you considered.

 

Moving to automation

External and internal threats constantly evolve, and traditional networking makes keeping up difficult. Even small changes can be complicated and time-consuming for network engineers, particularly when it involves manually manipulating switches and routers. A flexible and automated solution, such as software-defined networking (SDN), can solve this. SDN simplifies how you operate and protect critical infrastructure by automating routine but arduous tasks.

Decreasing the number of time-intensive, recurring tasks lobbed at your IT team can significantly help create a more secure critical infrastructure. Automation technology can tackle repetitive tasks with 100-percent accuracy every time; the same cannot be said for humans. Additionally, more free time allows IT professionals to approach security more strategically. They can stay ahead of the security curve and build proactive solutions, rather than constantly reacting to network security events.

 

In Conclusion

Critical IT infrastructure, is exactly that: critical. To protect it, federal IT decision makers need to be proactive, not only by investing in next-generation technology, but through rigorous and efficient lifecycle planning and network development.


Greg Kushto is Force 3’s director of security and enterprise networking.

Related Blog Posts

See All Blogs

Ignore the Workforce at Your IT Modernization Peril

Federal agencies are currently faced with the daunting task of modernizing billions of dollars’ worth of outdated technology. On the path to IT modernization success, the investment in technology represents only half the battle though — agencies also need to…

Force 3 Named Public Sector Partner of the Year and Federal Intelligence Partner of the Year at Cisco Partner Summit

This week, Force 3 was recognized for our leadership in the public sector by receiving two awards at the Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas, NV. Force 3 was named the Americas Geographical Region Public Sector Partner of the Year…

Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan that Keeps Pace with Technology

The fear of a disaster in your data center is what nightmares are made of for technology teams. Are the systems backed-up properly? Will we lose data? How much downtime will we incur? Does the team know what to do?…

Choosing an IT Solution Provider that Keeps Projects on Track

Most of us have experienced a project that hasn’t gone quite as planned. Information wasn’t received at the right time, different teams had completely different interpretations of the requirements, or somebody didn’t realize they were responsible for a task. Little…

TechTarget: Big Blue Drives Collaboration Among IBM Business Partners

IBM is investing in resources and business processes to make it easier for IBM business partners to create alliances with each other. Following last month's IBM Think conference in San Francisco, Senior Director of Software Practice Charles Fullwood discusses the…

Deployment and Resident Engineers Deliver On-Site Solutions

At Force 3, we provide solutions. From infrastructure management to cloud migration, we create custom answers to federal IT’s most pressing problems. But we believe strong, sustainable solutions involve more than just software and hardware. What agencies often need most…

WBJ: Here’s What it Takes for a Mid-Tier Maryland Contractor to Compete in Evolving Federal IT Marketplace

More than three-fourths of federal government agencies — about 77 percent, according to a Government Accountability Office report — will not meet their planned technology modernization goals by the end of the year. Our CEO, Mike Greaney, recently sat down…

The Rally Call for Digital Transformation Is Here: Are You Ready for the Journey?

Today, digital transformation has become the rallying cry for government organizations aiming to innovate and improve operations. The promise of digital transformation is profound: faster and more informed decision-making, improved customer insights, greater cost savings, more reliable products and services,…

3 Tactics to Avoid Insider Threats Posed by Third-Party Contractors

"The balance between too much security and too little is delicate. Overzealous access policies can bring efficiency and productivity to a screeching halt. But an overly lax approach can expose sensitive data to people who don’t need it and shouldn’t…

Improving Insider Threat Detection with Security Integration

With cyber-attacks like Nyetya and WannaCry dominating headlines over the last several months, you’d think malware would top the list of security pro’s biggest concerns. But you’d be wrong, according to the SANS Institute’s 2017 annual data security survey. While…

Unstructured Data: The Threat You Cannot See

In this article for Dark Reading, Force 3 software practice director Charles Fullwood examines why security teams needs to take a cognitive approach to the increasing volumes of data flowing from sources they don't control. Every day, IT security teams…

Expect security, cloud spending in 2018 Federal IT Budget

In recent interviews with TechTarget, industry leaders--including Force 3's Greg Kushto--cited an uptick in federal IT procurement activity during the government's fiscal fourth quarter and expected FY 2018 to feature security and cloud investments. IT solution providers planning to pursue…

NextGov: How to Unleash Federal IT Workers as Changemakers

Written by Force 3's vice president of client solutions Jason Parry, this article was originally published at www.NextGov.com. The public-sector workforce has always been plagued by stereotypes. To the layman, “government job” calls to mind images of a middle-aged bureaucrat,…

SearchITChannel: New tech, old virtues keep server virtualization going

"Server virtualization is well past the peak of the technology adoption curve, but SMB customers, open source technology and hybrid clouds keep demand going." —John Moore, SearchITChannel Server virtualization platforms have been around for ages and would seem to be old…

FedTech: How to Make the Most of the Federal Hiring Freeze

Although the freeze may constrain resources, it is also an opportunity to conduct an IT inventory, invest in training and prioritize projects. In this article for FedTech, writer Phil Goldstein addresses how federal agencies are handling the recently announced federal…

3 Opportunities for IT Teams Dealing With Federal Hiring Freeze

With a federal hiring freeze ordered across the board for federal agencies, government organizations find themselves rethinking operations—including IT. It’s a tough reality for federal IT teams, with civilian agencies seeing the deepest impact. The order heavily affects IT professionals,…

DevOps: An Evolving Approach for Evolving IT Teams

By promoting collaboration and better communication, DevOps practices can help IT teams raise their profile and generate better outcomes for their organization. And here's how: Imagine you’re an architect tasked with designing a massive mixed-used building in Washington D.C. It’s…

Federal Times: Contractors Can Help With Feds’ Security Fears

In a single, average day, the Department of Defense alone experiences an estimated 100,000 cyberattacks. Meanwhile, with accusations of Russian election hacking dominating our national dialogue and new breaches constantly being reported, federal agencies have developed a real and justifiable fear:…

Promoting a Workplace Cybersecurity Culture

Cybersecurity awareness ranks high on the federal government’s agenda and rightly so. Data breaches at federal agencies affect not only the entity in question, but potentially countless U.S. citizens whose private information it might possess. Earlier this year, a hack…

Federal Times: 4 Ways Contractors Can Help Alleviate Feds’ Security Fears

In a single, average day, the Department of Defense alone experiences an estimated 100,000 cyberattacks. Meanwhile, with accusations of Russian election hacking dominating our national dialogue and new breaches constantly being reported, federal agencies have developed a real and justifiable fear:…

Channel technology trends 2017: Cloud, cybersecurity & automation

Channel partners can expect to see plenty of activity next year in cloud computing, multi-cloud in particular, as well as cybersecurity and IT automation. When it comes to channel technology trends, 2017 seems likely to showcase some familiar developments —…

An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Reaction

Imagine you’re at a seafood restaurant. One look at the menu, and you know exactly what you want: lobster. Your food arrives, you clean your plate, and then proceed to pull out your EpiPen because you also happen to have…

How to improve government services delivery

It’s a truth as inherently American as NASCAR and as inscrutable as pop music: When it comes to providing citizen services, the government can be technologically challenged.In a recent interview with Wired magazine, even President Barack Obama acknowledged the government’s…

Full speed: Cisco Partner Summit sets the tone for the future

Full speed: The theme from last month’s Cisco Partner Summit speaks volumes about the company’s vision—not to mention it’s understanding and embrace of how quickly our industry is evolving. Most of all, it gives Cisco’s partners in the security and…

Transitioning from the server room to the board room

How can IT professionals balance business goals and information security?For years, businesses and their IT operations experienced a strained symbiosis — each needing the other to thrive, but frequently at odds in matters of prioritization, budgeting, and resources.Fast-forward to the…

If Target or Sony can be a target for cyber criminals, so can you

When hackers breached Sony or Target or the IRS or the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, you probably heard about it. Without fail, data breaches at major organizations always rank high in the news, particularly because so many citizens are…

Cybersecurity, the election & the conversation we’re not having–but should

Putting aside political discord or controversies (and certainly this year has offered plenty of both), the 2016 election has made history—not to mention provided a major sense of validation—for those of us working in the information security realm. Never before…

IoT: Mitigating the risks of the revolution

In 2015, the U.S. government increased its spending on the Internet of Things (IoT) by 20 percent—nearly $9 billion—according to a report released last year. It’s a great step forward as the federal space increasingly looks to IoT to increase…

Ransomware infections: Channel toils to defend besieged customers

As ransomware attacks continue to proliferate and escalate, organizations increasingly turn to channel partners to help defend against potential infections. In some cases, companies find themselves reconsidering their IT security posture, Force 3 senior technical consultant Chris Crider tells TechTarget's…

Preparing for and combatting 21st century cyber threats

A report released earlier this year suggests that cybercrime costs consumers and companies between $375 and $575 billion annually. Despite billions of dollars spent fighting it every year, cybercrime continues to rise with another report estimating 200-percent growth in just…

How can we help your agency achieve its mission?

Maximize your IT investments. Learn more about solutions and services from Force 3.