secure government communications


4 must-haves for secure communications

We all know that secure communication and data protection have long been priorities for the public sector IT managers. But for those with any doubt over the pressure government faces, the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report  proves that the public sector is a principle target for crimeware attacks, with 47,237 incidents reported in 2015 alone and a daunting 193 actual breaches.

Security is a huge problem for the public sector, though I’m sure it will hardly come as a surprise to those in the know: Combine the size and reach of government operations with the highly sensitive information in use, and it’s clear why it is such an attractive target. As detailed in the Verizon report, the large number of incidents is not an indictment of the public sector but partly a result of the stricter reporting requirements agencies operate under compared to private companies, which are under far less obligation to ‘fess up when something goes wrong.

Secure communication is at the core of data protection; without encryption and authentication every single smartphone in your organization is a potential point of vulnerability. While the pressure is immense and the threats complex, the potential solutions available to government agencies are also myriad and confusing. Those of you in the public sector know that action is required, but how should you choose what action to take? Of course you have teams and procedures in place to protect your centralized data hubs, but what about the potential access points your employees walk around with and use every day? How can you bring mobile communication inside your firewall? The security and financial implications of choosing the wrong technology path now are enough to raise the blood pressure of even the most battle-hardened IT specialist.

With decades of experience within the public sector in government intelligence and developing a secure communication solution in the commercial market, it would be fair to say I’ve been there and have the scars to prove it. For government agencies, increasing the security of communications is no longer an “if,” but rather a “how.” Here are my four key must-haves for a secure communications strategy:

1. Military-grade encryption

Not all encryption is created equal. Although it should be easy to use, it is, by its very nature, complicated. Check out any potential messaging platform’s website for the encryption functionality: end-to-end is a starting point, not a slam-dunk. Ensure the solution offers the level of protection you need -- if it isn’t FIPS certified is it a non-starter? Many commercial apps can’t or won’t provide your organization visibility into your employees’ messaging, creating huge problems for regulation and oversight.

2. Integration

Avoid costly rip and replace. The reality is that in the public sector, legacy infrastructure is a huge consideration. You want something that can integrate with existing investments, such as your PBX infrastructure and, in doing so, extend the lifetime of your current systems. Similarly, do you retain all of the data produced, and can you manage the system from within your own data center if necessary to ensure you have complete control? This may be necessary in terms of regulation, visibility, latency, etc., but it really comes down to one question: Who do you trust more to store your sensitive data, them or you?

3. Sector experience

Don’t be anyone’s guinea pig. The demands and requirements of the public sector differ hugely from that of the private sector. Like any other business decision, make sure you pick a partner with a proven track record of success working in your arena or be prepared to watch budgets and deadlines whistle by. Proper research is critical to determine which vendor offers the correct platform for your business. Take secure communications, for example. The sooner you can offer an intuitive, secure messaging platform to employees, the sooner you can ban staff from sharing sensitive information on unsecure consumer apps without slowing down productivity or seeming draconian.

4. Continuity of service

Don’t risk being left in the dark. Consumer messaging platforms are increasingly likely to fall foul of governments internationally -- just ask the Brazilians how funny they found the most recent WhatsApp ban. The issue for governments is that consumer messaging apps offer encrypted messaging to the general public with no screening process, which means crime and terrorism risks. Whatever option you go for, be sure that it will provide the reliability you need and has business continuity and disaster recovery standards in place.

Whether a federal, state or municipal operation, you have a responsibility to protect all communications regarding your constituents. Take pains to chart the best technology course possible. Your country will thank you. 

About the Author

John Robusto is CEO of CSG.


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