Cyber Attacks on Government Agencies Show Need Endpoint Management

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) headquarters

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) headquarters stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. The SEC approved a rule requiring hedge funds and private-equity funds to reveal internal information to U.S. regulators. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission displayed how vulnerable government agencies are to cyberattacks when it disclosed last week that hackers had breached its database. The hackers were able to get into the SEC’s corporate filing system, which is called Edgar. The filing system is used by companies to make disclosures that are legally required. For example, companies can use Edgar to file quarterly earnings or disclose statements on mergers and acquisitions before they are made public. This electronic database of market-moving corporate announcements was targeted by hackers because the confidential information in Edgar allowed hackers to turn a profit.

The cyber attackers were able to exploit a software vulnerability in the test filing component of Edgar. The SEC learned of the data breach last year, the same year that the incident occurred. However, the SEC didn’t determine that the hackers used the stolen data to make illicit trades until August of this year. The SEC immediately patched the security gap when it was discovered, but by this time the hackers had already seen confidential information. It is not yet known which companies may have been affected by the hackers’ insider trading.

Back in July, the Government Accountability Office released a report that found security gaps in the SEC’s information systems. The GAO also found that the vulnerabilities limited the effectiveness of the SEC’s ability to protect confidentiality and integrity. The report also said that the SEC failed to consistently encrypt sensitive information.

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton says that the agency is still reviewing the breach, but it is coordinating with authorities as well. The SEC still does not know exactly how much the hackers made in profits from this breach.

The news of the breach at the SEC comes after Equifax disclosed earlier this month that the personal information of 143 million Americans was compromised by hackers. The breach at Equifax will affect 44% of the U.S. population. Due to this breach, consumers are growing distrustful of financial institutions and government agencies that claim to protect sensitive information. To prevent a data breach, below are a few steps that government agencies can take:

  1. Conduct Audits: By conducting vulnerability audits, government agencies can see if their information systems are strong enough to withstand cyberattacks conducted by opportunistic hackers. Vulnerability assessments allow IT teams to see exactly where the agency’s cybersecurity is weak. Another useful audit is an IT application audit, which can uncover unauthorized software running on government networks. By identifying vulnerabilities and malicious software, government agencies can decrease the likelihood of a data breach.
  2. Immediately Remediate Security Gaps: Government agencies should prioritize immediately fixing any security weaknesses when they are uncovered. The GAO found vulnerabilities in the SEC’s information systems, but the SEC failed to address these vulnerabilities. Because the SEC didn’t address the gaps in their security, cyber attackers were able to exploit them and break into Edgar. Through immediate remediation, government agencies can limit the window of opportunity for hackers.
  3. Monitor for Unauthorized Users: Unauthorized users can lurk in government networks for months if IT teams don’t regularly monitor for suspicious activity. By regularly monitoring networks, government IT teams can discover cyber attackers who are accessing confidential information.
  4. Encrypt Data: By encrypting sensitive information, government agencies can prevent cyber attackers from accessing data without a password or decryption key. Encryption adds an additional layer of security for cyber attackers to try to bypass.
  5. Use Endpoint Management Solutions: With Endpoint Management Software, government agencies can have a more transparent view into what’s running and not running on their networks. With detailed reports, agencies can see exactly where their cybersecurity needs to improve.

The data breach at the SEC shows how vital cybersecurity software is to government agencies. With endpoint management software, government agencies can uncover vulnerabilities, remediate security gaps, and identify unauthorized users. As government agencies become a key target for cyber attackers, Endpoint Management Solution can help keep confidential data secure.