The unprecedented and extraordinary efforts by businesses and Federal agencies to keep employees and customers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic have also inadvertently opened the door to cyberattacks.
Large-scale transitions to work-from-home technologies, heightened activity on many public-facing networks, and greater use of online services have presented new openings for cyber attackers to exploit. As people around the world shelter in place, they turn to online platforms to chat with friends, shop, work, and go to school. That transition to virtual life puts a large strain on cybersecurity controls.
Federal agencies face new daily challenges in assuring the security of networks. In the midst of the current global pandemic that imperative is even greater — they must protect their institutions while ensuring that daily tasks go on uninterrupted. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recommends that agencies “make risk-based decisions as appropriate to meet mission needs” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is important now for agency leaders to focus on supporting technologies and capabilities that are absolutely essential to their organizations’ operations. Priority actions — and relevant technologies — may include testing already existing security plans, continuously monitoring security systems, and maintaining access security. GSA’s Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services (HACS) Special Item Number (SIN) provides Federal agencies with rapid access to cybersecurity vendors who can assist with the following priority actions and more.
Testing and having incident response plans in place are helpful for any agency. If an agency has plans such as incident response, disaster recovery, or continuity, it is important to test those plans and assess any risks as soon as possible. GSA’s HACS SIN provides rapid access to vendors evaluated for incident response services.
Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) should continue to monitor their systems closely in order to identify cybersecurity events and incidents as soon as they may appear. Focus areas include monitoring networks for new strains of malware, monitoring collaboration tools such as Google Drive or Dropbox, and monitoring personnel activity. CISOs can also monitor their systems by using Intrusion Detection Systems or their preferred live network monitoring software. The HACS SIN is an efficient way to access these capabilities.
Access management in a remote work environment is another essential focus area during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though cybersecurity is essential, so is the physical safety of the American people. Agencies are encouraging teleworking whenever possible to adhere to the Government’s social distancing guidelines, and cybersecurity experts are needed to help make telework safe and secure for employees.
With many — if not all — of an agency’s employees working from home, click-through rates for phishing emails may increase when employees no longer work closely enough with coworkers to ask them in person about suspicious activity. Remote work can also require agencies to enable offsite access to critical and/or confidential information, which can increase the risk of a cyber attack. Employees can mitigate this risk by adhering to their agency’s access control policy and utilizing secure connections (such as Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) and/or VPN) when accessing Government networks containing sensitive information.
The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human challenge, with heads of agencies and employees all juggling professional duties with personal and family responsibilities. The risk of cyberattacks will be elevated, but by focusing now on cyber activities — testing response plans, monitoring security systems, and maintaining personnel security — agencies can successfully maintain their security.
GSA is here to help connect Federal agencies with vendors that provide necessary cybersecurity services during this time through the HACS SIN solution. For more information, visit the HACS Homepage. To learn more about the additional services the HACS SIN provides, watch our HACS Overview Video.
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