Report: Federal agencies still fighting the last war

The battlefronts have moved, but federal security professionals are sticking with tactics and defenses that have worked in the past

Federal government agencies are still fighting the last cybersecurity war, the one where computer networks had a strong, defensible perimeter, according to a new report by 451 Research.

The battlefronts have moved, but federal security professionals are sticking with tactics and defenses that have worked in the past, according to report author and 451 Research analyst Garrett Bekker. That includes an over-reliance on network and endpoint security technologies that fail in the face of multi-stage attacks, he wrote.

According to the report, 60 percent of government respondents said that network defenses were very effective at safeguarding data, higher than any other vertical.

In addition, the top categories for spending over the 12 months were network defenses at 53 percent, followed by analysis and correlation tools at 46 percent.

"Only 37 percent are saying that they're increasing investment in protecting data-at-rest, which is most of the breaches are happening," said Sol Cates, CSO at Vormetric, which sponsored the report.

In fact, data-at-rest defenses were ranked dead last in terms of spending plans.

By comparison, at the average U.S. enterprise, 45 percent of respondents said they planned to increase spending on protecting data-at-rest.

And while 68 percent of government respondents said that data-at-rest defenses were "very" or "extremely" effective, this was the lowest percentage of any vertical and below the U.S. average of 75 percent.

A network today has a much greater attack surface than in the past, Cates said.

"As you start involving more devices, WiFi networks, cellular, satellite, there are so many vectors into a network, into an application that focusing on the constantly changing surface is challenging," he said.

In addition, 84 percent of U.S. federal respondents are planning on storing sensitive data in some form of public cloud environment within the next 12 months.

Two possible factors at work here may be compliance and budgets, Cates added.

"We have to make sure that agencies are focusing on the data, the crown jewels, and the only way to do that is to look at that data, and a lot of organizations aren't doing that, and compliance isn't pushing them that way," he said.

Compliance requirements were listed as a "very" or "extremely" effective way to protect sensitive data by 57 percent of U.S. federal respondents, even though compliance standards move slowly and often fail to stop multi-level, multi-phase attacks, the report said.

Budgetary constraints were the single biggest reason for the lack of adoption of data security, cited by 43 percent of government respondents, higher than in any other industry vertical.

"In government, budget cycles are very long, and making sure it makes it to the top is very challenging for a security group," Cates said.

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