As we spend an increasingly large percentage of our time online, we’ve become aware of the malicious tactics used to trick us into downloading malware or betraying our credentials. However, when we’re not paying attention, serious trouble can take us by surprise. In the wake of a series of ransomware attacks that crippled local governments across the country, IT managers who are looking for ways to better protect employees from phishing attacks have realized that human error can be tricky to reduce and all but impossible to avoid. Everyone makes mistakes. Email, in particular, is one front where employees tend to let their guard down. But there are steps government IT teams can take to mitigate the possible damage from a phishing attack to protect their critical systems and ensure continuity of service.

Tailor the approach

As organizations push to modernize, they often move pieces of their operations to the cloud, beginning with email. Some teams may assume the baseline protection that cloud service providers supply will filter out dangerous messages, but in-depth defense crucial. An agency’s phishing protection plan must be specific to that agency — an out-of-the-box solution will never catch everything.

Agencies should survey their current email monitoring tools to understand what needs are being filled and what gaps remain. Then, with a clear understanding of their current position, they can build a roadmap to address specific challenges. Some agencies will need strong restrictions on IP addresses, domains, and other identifiers for incoming mail to ensure their highly sensitive data goes uncompromised. Others can have looser policies and still remain protected. Still others may find their mission hindered by too severe a regulation of email communications. Simply put, one size does not fit all.

For example, not every agency needs to be laser focused on data-loss protection. Is it a good use of time to worry about advanced malware, or are there more probable threats to that agency’s mission? By getting a grip on current security postures and ongoing needs, agencies can determine whether they simply need to update their current tools or bring on new solutions that are customizable and offer advanced protection.

Leverage new tools

Advancements in machine learning make identifying tell-tale characteristics of new attack signatures significantly less resource-intensive. Defining patterns and predicting attacks has never been easier, so for agencies with a clear need, integrating new tools can be well worth the investment.

Using cutting-edge data analysis, modern tools can map standard email activity to create expected behavior profiles, flagging anything that strays from that norm. These tools can objectively evaluate potential threats in ways employees can’t, with a level of scrutiny agencies shouldn’t expect from employees in the first place. Constant vigilance and skepticism take their toll on workers who should be committing their mental energy to the job at hand instead of watching for fraudulent emails.

Machine learning combined with the ability to rapidly match incoming mail to known threat signatures gives government agencies a much more holistic and agency-specific solution to phishing prevention than any standard program could provide. Instead of experiencing a security breach blamed on user error, agencies can fine-tune their parameters for filtering email, preventing potentially costly mistakes from being made in the first place.

Layer Defenses with Zero Trust Protocols

Even with the most sophisticated filtering system in place, threats might slip through. That’s why every good security plan is layered. After lowering the possibility that a breach may occur, the next step is to mitigate the potential damage should one come to pass.

Chief security officers should understand where email security protocol fits into their wider security infrastructure and how it can best be leveraged for the deepest possible defense. Broader questions can be more impactful than a fine-tuned email security process. Are critical systems isolated from the network? Are there adequate firewalls in place? Is the agency’s backup strategy up to date and operating at full capacity? Agencies must remember that email protection is only one piece of a larger security solution.

The Zero Trust security model is designed to build layers of defense to keep your data and systems protected in case malware gets through your firewall, including by email. With Zero Trust, nobody can be trusted on the outside or inside of the network. There is still a hard perimeter, but the interior also becomes hard, with access to files and applications authenticated at every step. Permission to clear the perimeter is achieved with multi-factor authentication to prove the person is who they say they are. Once inside, areas within the network are restricted based on the person’s role.

Connected devices and apps are monitored and restricted based on defined factors, including location and required usage. File usage is monitored at the user level to ensure the usage is legitimate.

These layers of security create a hard, impenetrable network that stops threats at all potential points. It also moves agencies from being reactive to threats that break through the perimeter to being proactive in thwarting attacks.

The zero trust model offers a holistic view of network security driven by technology that spots trends, identifies weaknesses, and raises alarms much faster, stemming potential losses. This model helps put cybersecurity professionals in front of malicious cybercriminals before their ransomware can take hold of your files. Learn more about implementing Zero Trust security in your agency here.

Phishing can seem like an unavoidable operating risk as threats become more sophisticated and targeted each year. But with a little planning and some strategic decision making, agencies can greatly reduce their vulnerability to such attacks, ensuring that their employees are free to advance the agency’s mission.

 

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