What History Can Teach Us About Cybersecurity


Before this year, I bet you never gave a second thought to Alexander Hamilton. But a popular musical has brought the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury center stage.

Hamilton was a lot of things. He was a member of the Continental Congress, was a noted banker and investor, and a world-class hip-hop star (not really on that last one).

Hamilton also had some really great quotes. Here’s one of my favorites: “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct.”

While I believe it’s safe to say that Hamilton wasn’t talking about cybersecurity, his words are nevertheless applicable to the subject. As threats multiply and gain complexity, federal IT professionals are feeling the pressure and must take measures to protect their agencies from external danger.

Earlier this year my company, SolarWinds, issued the results of a cybersecurity report and survey that ascertained the level of concern amongst federal IT administrators in regard to growing threats. Out of 200 government IT professionals surveyed, forty-four percent mentioned threat sophistication as the number one answer to the question of why agencies are more vulnerable today, while twenty-six percent noted the increased volume of threats as their primary concern. Other findings revealed a decrease in funding for IT security and growing amount of bureaucracy, both of which were seen as impeding security efforts.

A doer like Hamilton would have had none of this! He was a take the bull by the horns kind of guy – why else would he have gotten himself into a duel with the sitting vice president (he lost, but that’s beside the point)? Agency IT administrators should take a cue from old Alex and adopt ways to address their concerns and fight back against threats.

The fight for independence…from bad actors

Every successful fight begins with a strategy, and strategies typically begin with budgets. As these budgets continue to tighten, agency personnel must continue to explore the most cost-effective options at their disposal.

The cloud, licensing models, and innovative development approaches have helped make software acquisition far more efficient and budget-friendly. Agencies now have the ability to download specific tools at a fraction of the cost of the bloated software programs of old. Further, these tools are typically designed to work in heterogeneous environments; there’s no need to be locked in to a specific vendor. These factors can help IT managers cut through red tape while saving money.

The right to bear software

No revolution can be won without the proper tools, however. Thankfully, the tools that IT managers have at their disposal in the fight against cyber threats are numerous and powerful.

The primary weapon is security information and event management (SIEM) software. Automated SIEM solutions can help managers proactively identify potential threats and react to them as they occur, before they have the chance to do significant damage. Agency administrators can monitor and log events that take place on the network – for instance, when an unauthorized USB or mobile device attempts to access the network, or suspicious activity is detected from a particular IP address. Administrators can react by blocking access to a user or device, identifying and addressing policy and compliance violations, and more.

These solutions have been successful in helping agency administrators detect and manage threats. According to our survey respondents, users of SIEM software “are significantly more able to detect, within minutes, almost all threats listed on the survey.” Other tools, such as configuration management software that lets managers automatically adjust and monitor changes in network configurations, have also proven effective at reducing the time it takes to respond to IT security incidents.

Hamilton once said, “A promise must never be broken.” The promise that federal IT managers must make today is to do everything they can to protect their networks from mounting cybersecurity threats. It’s certainly not an easy task, but with the right strategies and tools, it might very well be a winnable battle.

Joe Kim is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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