Taking an automated approach to defending public sector data

Taking an automated approach to defending public sector data

Adam Bangle at BlackBerry explains why AI and automation are crucial tools for defending information in the NHS and the public sector.

2020 has already proved to be an extremely challenging year with a global health pandemic, economic downturn and the cybersecurity threat landscape expanding. The public sector is under pressure to cope with public demand. There are some things that are out of the public sector’s control right now – but cybersecurity should not be one of them.

Yet, with the increasing ease of access to attack toolkits combined with the explosion of endpoints connected to organisations’ networks, the global landscape for emerging threats is only escalating. We also see threat actors take advantage of the current global crisis. Despite the unprecedented challenges the public sector faces right now, two of the most at risk institutions to cyberthreats are the NHS and government.With resources are being poured into the NHS, governmental means are increasingly stretched.

Both national institutions need to find ways of defending themselves against criminals who are looking to take advantage of the current crisis. But why are the NHS and the government such lucrative targets for cyber criminals?

Cyber security in the NHS

The healthcare industry appeals to hackers due to the nature of the data it handles, the amount of Internet of things (IoT) devices collecting sensitive data, the continued use of insecure, legacy devices and the fact that IT and security teams in the health sector lack the resources to deal with the modern threat landscape.

It has already been reported that attacks on the NHS have increased since the COVID-19 outbreak. Criminals are capitalising on chaos in our brilliant NHS, and the fact that cybersecurity resilience checks at the NHS have been delayed because resources are diverted to handling the coronavirus outbreak will only encourage hackers.

Sadly, ransomware and information stealers are the most common type of malware used against the healthcare sector. BlackBerry’s latest research uncovered that globally, healthcare organisations are more likely to pay ransoms than other industry due to the critical nature of the targeted data. But with the NHS under significant strain, resources must be allocated to treating patients, not to paying cybercriminals.

Destabilising government with cyber attacks

It is also no surprise that the government is a highly prized target for hackers. The obvious access it can grant Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) to highly classified military, financial and personally identifiable information, is motivation enough to exploit weaknesses in governmental cyber security systems.

Attacks against government can have major ramifications for a nation that go beyond hindering national infrastructure. Some of the more serious types of government-focused attacks can threaten lives. In 2019, police departments and local councils were attacked, resulting in significant financial impact and costly follow up investigations. During the COVID-19 crisis, governments around the world can ill afford to waste resource on investigating illicit activity against them.

Automating defences against cyber criminals

COVID-19 is and must be the public sector’s main focus for the foreseeable future. It is an unpredictable, ever-evolving crisis that requires the full attention of the government and NHS. Unfortunately, it is a fact that cyberattacks against the institutions that are currently protecting us are inevitable. However, there is a solution that the NHS and Government can implement to minimise the damage of cyberattacks.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will continue to prove critical for threat prevention and remediation strategies because of the advantage they offer through continuous learning and proactive threat modelling of attacks that continue to become more complex. For instance, if a member of staff clicks on a suspect link while working from home, cutting-edge algorithms and artificial intelligence can step in proactively to protect them, preventing threats like malware, hackers, viruses, ransomware, and malicious websites.

Adopting an AI solution will free up valuable time and resource for IT and security staff both in healthcare and government. While we see  cybersecurity experts around the world team up to battle coronavirus-related hacks, initiatives like this simply aren’t enough to defend critical sectors such as healthcare and government. A mix of human expertise and creativity, alongside the speed and efficiency of AI and ML is what will help security teams battle the ever-increasing threat of cybercriminals against the public sector.

During this crisis, organisations and workers should trust no-one and secure everything. This is even more critical in the public sector where security teams are facing an overwhelming level of threat at a time where we need IT to work perfectly across government and healthcare.

Security managers in the public sector may not be able to prevent every attack on their own, but by deploying AI security solutions they can defend our brilliant NHS and crucial governmental departments against the worst outcomes of cyberattacks during this global crisis.


Adam Bangle is Vice President, EMEA at BlackBerry

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

Copyright Lyonsdown Limited 2021

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