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U.S. Ramping Up National Cybersecurity

The U.S. government aims to improve its efforts to identify, deter, protect against, detect, and respond to the persistent and increasingly sophisticated malicious cyberattacks. These attacks threaten the public sector, the private sector, and ultimately the American people’s security and privacy. The federal government also seeks to carefully examine what occurred during any major cyber incident and apply lessons learned.

The U.S. President has issued a policy that states that the prevention, detection, assessment, and remediation of cyber incidents is a top priority and essential to national and economic security. The government must lead by example.  All federal information systems should meet or exceed the standards and requirements for cybersecurity outlined in and issued according to this order.

However, cybersecurity requires more than government action. Protecting the U.S. from malicious cyber actors requires the government to partner with the private sector.  The private sector must adapt to the continuously changing threat environment and ensure its products are built and operate securely, and partner with the government to foster more secure cyberspace. The digital infrastructure should be trustworthy and transparent so that people will trust the infrastructure.

The government needs to make bold changes and significant investments instead of incremental improvements to defend the vital institutions that underpin the American way of life. The government must bring to bear the full scope of its authorities and resources to protect and secure its computer systems, whether they are cloud-based, on-premises, or hybrid.  The scope of protection and security must include systems that process data (information technology (IT)) and those that run the vital machinery that ensures our safety (operational technology (OT)).

The order generally seeks to overhaul a current patchwork of regulations and guidelines for the private sector and commercial marketplace around federal contractor cybersecurity requirements. This order will require agencies and contractors to address numerous issues at once under short timeframes. The order includes:

  • Removing barriers to sharing threat information
  • Modernising federal government security
  • Enhancing software supply chain security
  • Establishing a cyber safety review board
  • Standardising the federal government’s playbook for responding to cybersecurity vulnerabilities and incidents
  • Improving detection of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and incidents on federal government networks
  • Improving the federal government’s investigative and remediation capabilities

As cyberattacks have become more common, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has offered a series of simple tips and tactics to help organisations protect against ransomware attacks, as reported by OpenGov Asia. NIST is a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

NIST’s advice includes:

  • Use antivirus software at all times — and make sure it’s set up to automatically scan your emails and removable media (e.g., flash drives) for ransomware and other malware.
  • Keep all computers fully patched with security updates.
  • Use security products or services that block access to known ransomware sites on the internet.
  • Configure operating systems or use third-party software to allow only authorised applications to run on computers, thus preventing ransomware from working.
  • Restrict or prohibit the use of personally owned devices on your organisation’s networks and for telework or remote access unless you’re taking extra steps to assure security.

NIST also advises users to follow these tips for their work computers:

  • Use standard user accounts instead of accounts with administrative privileges whenever possible.
  • Avoid using personal applications and websites, such as email, chat and social media, on work computers.
  • Avoid opening files, clicking on links, etc. from unknown sources without first checking them for suspicious content. For example, you can run an antivirus scan on a file, and inspect links carefully.

Unfortunately, even with protective measures in place, eventually, a ransomware attack may still succeed. Organisations can prepare for this by taking steps to ensure that their information will not be corrupted or lost, and those normal operations can resume quickly. NIST recommends that organisations follow these steps to accelerate their recovery:

  • Develop and implement an incident recovery plan with defined roles and strategies for decision making.
  • Carefully plan, implement and test a data backup and restoration strategy. It’s important not only to have secure backups of all your important data but also to make sure that backups are kept isolated so ransomware can’t readily spread to them.
  • Maintain an up-to-date list of internal and external contacts for ransomware attacks, including law enforcement.
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