How automation helps with shutdowns, attrition or budget cuts

The government shutdown early this year lasted longer than ever before, and the cybersecurity postures of agencies took a hit. And as the political climate becomes increasingly combative and the middle ground shrinks, two questions loom: Will we see another government shutdown?  And if so, will systems security suffer?

For any government agency or enterprise that relies on guidance from furloughed workers, the impact of a shutdown can be significant. As media outlets reported, many agencies’ cybersecurity staff fell to the level of skeleton crews -- and some furloughed employees with years of irreplaceable knowledge never came back.

Shutdowns aren’t the only danger of which federal agencies need to be cognizant, however. The same consequences – albeit on a smaller scale -- can result when there is voluntary or forced attrition. Good employees leave for new jobs. Budget cuts can limit resources and push staff -- and security knowledge -- out the door.

With these issues in mind, how can  agencies “shutdown-proof” their networks? What should be put in place now to help prevent the loss of cybersecurity knowledge and capabilities that will result from the next inevitable shutdown, reorganization or resource cut?

One answer is that agencies must turn to security automation.

Too much to accomplish, too few resources

Typically, government agencies aren’t running with a surplus of extra staff or resources. There are defined roles and responsibilities, and any time there is a disruption -- such as a shutdown or layoff -- problems arise.

Security, however, is a 24/7/365 battle. Critical and sensitive data must be protected, and that means making sure the network is protected at all times with policies, requirements, changes, patches and updates that keep systems up to date.

Another critical time is when new technologies, a new process or a new vendor is introduced into the environment. Is the agency moving to the cloud, for example? Is it using a new database? Is it collecting and analyzing data over the internet? Whenever changes are introduced, there are potential security issues that must be addressed.

In environments with fewer resources, the number of people with institutional knowledge of the network and systems at play is even smaller. These employees are tasked with multiple responsibilities, making it difficult for them to handle every alert or be aware of every possible security problem.

With limited resources and mostly manual processes, it is challenging for government IT shops to keep up with demand. Changes and updates can take too long, and mistakes and misconfigurations that can lead to downtime or a breach are far too common. When a shutdown or budget cut takes these employees out of the equation – even for a limited time – the damage can be insurmountable.

How security policy automation can help

The answer to this challenge is security automation. Networks and the people responsible for keeping them safe change all the time -- either due to the addition of new technologies or the loss of people and resources.

Agencies should start with automating their security policy -- the  set of rules that guides what gains access to the network, what is denied and the processes for updating and adding new capabilities and tools.

Automating network security policy helps ensure agencies can make secure and compliant changes across the entire network without compromising agility, risking human error or wasting the IT team’s valuable time on tedious, easily automated tasks. Agencies can lean on automated technology to ensure any future modifications made within the network, such as updates, patches, new technology implementations and more, are secure and compliant or are immediately flagged for attention or correction. This approach streamlines the change process and eradicates unintended manual or human errors.

Automation can add order and visibility to the network, manage policy violations and exceptions and streamline operations with continuous compliance and risk management. In fact, with automation in place, agencies can better control their networks, improving visibility, compliance and security.

It’s easy to see how security policy automation can help an agency facing a resource crunch because of a shutdown or attrition.

Of course, future shutdowns and attrition will still hurt, especially as automation lets employees take on higher-value roles. But with many critical security tasks automated and a consistent security policy automatically applied to all aspects of the network, there is less possibility that an “unplanned mandatory vacation due to politics” will leave agencies open to breaches or potential disaster. It also makes sure critical IT tasks aren’t dropped at the first sign of a shutdown or when a key employee leaves for a new position.

Security automation won’t solve every problem, but it will certainly make the prospect of being forced to use a skeleton crew for a few weeks a little less frightening.

About the Author

Greg McDermott is AVP of U.S. federal sales for Tufin.


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