Secure Government Networking Starts With Fully Secure Private Networks: How Software Defined Programmable Networks Reduce Risk and Improve Resilience

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JANUARY 2020

By: Chris Swan

Data integrity is a core value for IT teams keeping state, local and federal government agencies connected and operating.  Digital transformation provides an opportunity for our government agencies to connect with a larger population of employees, contractors and citizens, but are the new network technologies ready?  Are they secure enough to meet the data integrity standards required?  

A stunning increase in the sophistication and number of cyberattacks on agencies is forcing every information security officer to make data and infrastructure security a priority, not an afterthought.

Government agencies and departments within those agencies continue to experience serious data breaches, even those agencies we trust with our most important governance responsibilities, including the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Defense (DOD).

A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a complete listing of significant cyberattacks – here are just a few that occurred in the US in 2019 against government agencies and public utilities. The list is so long, that we’re only sharing incidents from the last six months of 2019:

December 2019.  Microsoft won a legal battle to take control of 50 web domains used by a North Korean hacking group to target government employees, think tank experts, university staff, and others involved in nuclear proliferation issues.

December 2019.  An alleged Chinese state-sponsored hacking group attacked government entities and managed service providers by bypassing the two-factor authentication used by their targets.

December 2019. Unknown hackers stole login credentials from government agencies in 22 nations across North America, Europe, and Asia.

October 2019. An Israeli cybersecurity firm was found to have sold spyware used to target senior government and military officials in at least 20 countries by exploiting a vulnerability in WhatsApp.

October 2019. A state-sponsored hacking campaign knocked offline more than 2,000 websites across Georgia, including government and court websites containing case materials and personal data.

October 2019.  Iranian hackers conducted a series of attacks against the Trump campaign, as well as current and former U.S. government officials, journalists, and Iranians living abroad.

September 2019.  A Chinese state-sponsored hacking group responsible for attacks against three U.S. utility companies in July 2019 was found to have subsequently targeted seventeen others.

September 2019.  North Korean hackers were revealed to have conducted a phishing campaign over the summer of 2019 targeted U.S. entities researching the North Korean nuclear program and economic sanctions against North Korea.

July 2019. State-sponsored Chinese hackers conducted a spear-phishing campaign against employees of three major U.S. utility companies.

July 2019.  The U.S. Coast Guard issued a warning after it received a report that a merchant vessel had its networks disrupted by malware while traveling through international waters.

July 2019.  Microsoft revealed that it had detected almost 800 cyberattacks over the past year targeting think tanks, NGOs, and other political organizations around the world, with the majority of attacks originating in Iran, North Korean, and Russia.

July 2019.  U.S. Cybercommand issued an alert warning that government networks were being targeted with malware associated with a known Iran-linked hacking group.

In the years previous, we witnessed the IRS getting hacked (resulting in a loss of $50 million), the compromise of an unclassified DoD network, US Postal Service servers attacked, and the state of Maine and city of Fort Lauderdale’s websites being taken down.

As more and more government agencies go online and widen their connected base, their attack surface is expanding, with an array of targets and motivations – from ransom to power, terrorism, politics and influence.  Today’s adversaries are more sophisticated than ever, with access to more tools, training and expertise than ever, spending (according to Gartner) at least 10 times more on developing the attack software than enterprises and governments spend in their attempts to protect their assets.

As Booz Allen shared in a report, “The exponential growth of mobile devices drives an exponential growth in security risks. Every new smart phone, tablet or other mobile device, opens another window for a cyber-attack, as each creates another vulnerable access point to networks,” and as government agencies rely increasingly on mobile devices connecting remote workers, ensuring security becomes even more complicated.

Cloud, social, and mobile technologies, including “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) are driving huge improvements in productivity and are so cost efficient, government agencies cannot go back to traditional “walled garden” computing and communications environments.

The mitigation of security risks has become so complex that agencies are hiring experts who focus solely on cybersecurity for state, local and federal government organizations, while also increasingly tapping into the growing Managed Security Service Providers who bring the very best technologies to the agencies, and integrate them into the environment to ensure every cloud, application and device is secured.

Dispersive got its start working with some of the most demanding and innovative government agencies in the US, by providing a very unique way to handle data across private IP networks, splitting session-level IP traffic into smaller independent packet streams and sending each stream on a different path. This approach secures the stream from man-in-the-middle threats since hackers would have to know the path for each stream and how to reassemble the traffic.

To ensure data can be received in all environments, each edge device constantly monitors over a dozen network parameters to steer session-level split traffic across the best combination of available routes every time; with more and more endpoints, including IoT, visibility into these devices and the ability to control them (including white listing and blacklisting) is of great importance.

When the Dispersive Virtual Network senses one of a session’s multiple paths is compromised, it rolls that traffic to a new path and steers traffic around outages, allowing consistent connectivity for crisis response and disaster recovery missions.

And finally, our networks use a series of advanced algorithms to ensure that packets are delivered in order to the application and to ensure that users of real-time services have a high-quality of service – therefore no need to compromise on speed and availability as a result of stronger security. In fact, most customers experience between 2-10 times performance improvement over traditional VPN and SD WAN solutions. Dispersive delivers high performance secure networks and does so in such a way that those networks can scale, with more flexibility and programmability to adapt to new requirements as the digital transformation of government continues.

To learn more about how we’ve worked with the US government to create software defined networking capabilities that keep Americans safer while making relationships with government agencies more convenient and efficient, contact me at cswan@dispersive.io.

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