How Situational Awareness Protects Data

Gathering and publishing data is a daily duty for agencies across government. The Environmental Protection Agency collects water temperatures, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publishes weather data, and the Department of Homeland Security monitors more sensitive data at nuclear facilities. Striking a balance between privacy and open data can be difficult, but agencies must consider how to protect the data.

This is particularly critical when collecting data via Internet of Things (IoT) devices because hackers will target any form of mission-critical data.

The first step to protecting data is to gain situational awareness about what data your agency collects, what devices you use to collect that data, and what you would like to use that data for. To learn more about how to apply situational awareness to data cybersecurity, GovLoop recently sat down with Henry Sienkiewicz, former Chief Information Officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency, and Paul Geraci, Senior Director of Intelligence and National Security at OSIsoft, a leader in data infrastructure and operation intelligence.

Sienkiewicz has spent a number of years protecting national security data, and through his position he was able to take an enterprise approach to examining cyber targets and the cybersecurity terrain. He defined cyber targets as any data or assets important to an agency, and he defined cyber terrain as the devices and pathways that allow employees to access that data.

“Every piece of data has potential value and therefore is potentially vulnerable,” he said. But agencies should take extra precautions to identify and protect data such as financial information or personal correspondence, such as email.

Individual hackers and nation-states both target agency data, whether it is related to national security or not. The best way agencies can protect cybertargets is by developing a conceptual framework to handle cyberthreats. Sienkiewicz advised that agencies work with stakeholders to develop strategic plans that incorporate contextual knowledge about what data is mission-critical. These plans should prepare agencies to recognize where data is stored, remediate risks for data breaches, and respond to cyberattacks when they occur.

Geraci also emphasized that the importance of situational awareness in protecting data, and he advised agencies to develop a common operating picture. He has found that many cybersecurity vulnerabilities are caused when information technology, which stores and transmits data, does not line up with the operational technology that monitors and controls physical devices.

To bridge the divide between IT and operational technology, Geraci advises agencies to convene stakeholders from across the agency to discuss data and the organizational needs. Speaking with leadership such as the CIO, chief technology officer, or chief information security officer will help cybersecurity professionals gain better situational awareness about the enterprise and the uses of data within the organization.

Cyber environments are constantly changing due to the introduction of new devices, but if agencies use software that provides real-time data to gain a holistic view of their organization’s systems, they can better understand and protect data.

“Having environmental and situational awareness is critical to decision-making, so it is mandatory that agencies know what endpoints and vulnerabilities exist,” Geraci added.

Agency data is a frequent target for hackers and bad actors because it is extremely valuable and difficult to protect due to the expansion of operational and information technologies in government. By developing a system of real-time situational awareness, agencies will gain a holistic, baseline understanding of what data their agency collects, what devices collect it, and how it should be released or protected.

Although the cybersecurity landscape in government is changing rapidly, protecting mission-critical data is a national security priority that will enable agencies to deliver on their mission for stakeholders.

For more information on situational awareness and data protection, view the entire online training here.

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