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In December 2019, the city of New Orleans endured a particularly devastating cyberattack. Hackers infected an estimated 4,000 city computers with ransomware. The cyberattack on the city’s networks will cost more than seven million dollars and the New Orleans mayor expects that number to grow. Similar cyberattacks took place last year in Atlanta, Baltimore and Pensacola, Florida.

Like any industry, local governments are not immune from cyberattacks which can paralyze towns, systems and daily operations. Any state, local or municipal department including school districts, police departments and fire companies can be at risk. They are particularly vulnerable due to the large amounts of personal data they hold. In many cases, tight IT budgets, limited IT staff, outdated systems and insufficient knowledge of security threats have left local governments scrambling to address the challenges of security.

New York State CISO Deborah Snyder (when discussing the Ponemon Institute’s 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study and in other recent interviews) offered a checklist of best practices to help governments avoid or lessen the effects of a data breach. These are helpful and practical tips that all local government leaders and IT professionals should consider.

  • Think ahead. Be prepared by assessing your risks and knowing where sensitive data is located.
  • Be aware of third parties. Know how vendors use data and ensure they are being careful with it.
  • Instill good cyber practices. Upgrade or fix software when needed, and train users to do the right thing when it comes to cyber practices.
  • Encrypt data. Make it harder for hackers to launch an attack.
  • Control access.  Manage access to sensitive information and pay close attention to privileged accounts.

Why privileged accounts are so important for security?

Privileged accounts can come in many different forms from admin, domain, network, local, active directory, cloud, emergency, service to application accounts. These accounts have a higher level of access to critical systems. Anyone with a privileged account can change system configurations, access secure data, change accounts, install software and much more.

With “privileged misuse” listed as the second most common category of security attack, it’s the easiest and fastest way for hackers to get to sensitive data. Securing and managing who has access to privileged accounts is critical to any state and local government’s security strategy.

How PAM software help governments

Local agencies and governments can use modern privileged access management (PAM) software for end-to-end control for their privileged passwords, secrets, certificates, and documents. The software puts privileged credentials inside a secure vault or repository. System admins and other privileged users must go through the PAM software and be authenticated to access their credentials. More importantly, it ensures that users have secure access to relevant assets/servers via a high trust session without ever knowing the password.

The software logs, records, and monitors each session. Credentials and passwords can be reset after each use or if the password is never seen, it can be rotated based upon policy for the highest level of security. Many PAM solutions will also provide out of the box solutions for several regulatory or government controls including –GDPR, NIST 800-171, ISO 2700, HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley and more.

PAM software also benefits municipal organizations by helping them manage who has privileged access to systems and data. Whether it’s remote workers, consultants, third-party contractors, MSPs or other partners, PAM software allows you to safely provide access to trusted personnel. You can lock your system behind your firewall forcing users to go through the PAM software. Using the principle of least privilege, PAM software can further restrict access rights for users, accounts, and computers/applications to only those resources/permissions required to perform their job effectively. The software can also help identify inappropriate permissions, record each session for compliance and send alerts should the software notices suspicious activity.

By providing an important layer of security, PAM helps reduce a government’s risk of a data breach and keep sensitive information and systems safeguarded.

Where to start with PAM?

If you’re unsure where to start, you’ll want to determine and define what a PAM solution means for your organization. How are privileged passwords currently managed? Who in your organization has access to privileged accounts? Are they internal or external users? How often do they access accounts? What is your technology, budget, staffing requirements, etc.?

Remember that implementing PAM software doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. Investing in an open PAM software that uses modern architecture will easily support both on-premise, cloud or hybrid environments. Look for PAM software that is agentless, supports target system APIs and includes advance proxies that can lock credentials on servers and enable the use of native clients. This allows for a more efficient deployment and management allowing you to work seamlessly within your existing workflows without disrupting current operations.

When meeting with PAM vendors consider key questions you should ask. Look for a company that can help you determine your needs, makes it easy to evaluate the software and has a strong customer support team. Make sure the PAM solution you choose is tailored to your specific government or departmental needs.

At Xton, we make it easy for anyone to try Xton Access Manager (XTAM) for privileged account management. We offer a free trial to see if it’s right for you. XTAM offers enterprise PAM functionality in one affordable, cloud-ready platform. Our unique approach – one platform, modern architecture, agentless, agile development and commitment to customer support – allows us to eliminate the unnecessary complexities associated with traditional PAM solutions. Put XTAM to work for your local, state or national government department. Whether you’re reacting to a data breach or proactively looking for ways to stay protected, the XTAM is ready to do the heavy lifting.

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