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  • Donald E. Hester

The Strength of Collaboration: Working Together Can Help Protect Local Governments

The Strength of Collaboration: How Working Together Can Help Protect Local Governments and Critical Infrastructure from Cyber Threats (My too long title)

"The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team." - Phil Jackson

In the world of cybersecurity, the concept of "You can't do it alone" is a fundamental truth. No single organization or entity can possibly have all the knowledge, expertise, and resources needed to defend against these threats on their own. Collaboration is necessary to share knowledge, resources, and expertise to develop comprehensive and effective defense strategies. This is particularly true in the local government and critical infrastructure sectors, where the consequences of a cyber-attack can have far-reaching and severe impacts. By working together, organizations can create a stronger, more resilient defense against cyber threats and protect the critical services and infrastructure that are vital to our communities and nation.

"The rise of the machine identity has resulted in new challenges and risks for cybersecurity that require our collective attention." - National Security Agency (NSA)

Supply Chain

In today's interconnected world, we rely on other organizations for services, and others rely on us for our services as local governments. This interconnectedness creates a complex supply chain that is vulnerable to cyber risks. Cyber risk is not something that applies only to your organization; it affects all your stakeholders. A cyber incident in your organization can have ripple effects, impacting your customers, partners, and the wider community. Similarly, a cyber incident in a partner organization can have significant consequences for your organization. Therefore, it's crucial to recognize that we are all part of a broader cyber supply chain, and we must work together to help each other address cyber risks. By collaborating and sharing information and resources, we can develop a more comprehensive and effective defense against cyber threats, reducing the risk of cyber incidents and their impact on our stakeholders.

Cybersecurity is not just about protecting our individual organizations, but it's also about protecting the larger ecosystem we all operate in. We cannot afford to ignore the fact that we are all connected and that an attack on one organization can have a ripple effect on others. This interconnectedness underscores the need for a whole ecosystem approach to cybersecurity, where organizations must work together to address threats and vulnerabilities. Collaboration is not just about protecting our own organizations but also about helping those around us to be more cyber-safe. By working together, sharing information, and collaborating on solutions, we can improve our collective cybersecurity posture and reduce the risk of cyber threats across the entire ecosystem. Ultimately, this approach will lead to a more resilient and secure cyber landscape, benefiting all members of the community.

Government Needs Collaboration

According to the Global Risk Report 2022 by the World Economic Forum, "Government at all levels facing mounting responsibilities and many are struggling to uphold their end of the digital social contract." This statement highlights a concerning reality that local governments are facing when it comes to cybersecurity. Local governments are responsible for providing essential services to their communities, from transportation to public safety, and these services are increasingly reliant on digital infrastructure. However, many local governments are struggling to keep pace with the rapid technological advancements and the growing cybersecurity threats that come with them. The consequences of a cyber incident in a local government can have far-reaching impacts on public safety and the welfare of communities. Therefore, it's crucial for local governments to recognize the importance of upholding their end of the digital social contract by investing in robust cybersecurity measures, developing comprehensive incident response plans, and collaborating with other entities to address cyber risks collectively.

"Government at all levels facing mounting responsibilities and many are struggling to uphold their end of the digital social contract..." - The Global Risk Report 2022, World Economic Forum

Threat Actors

Nation state threat actors do not view local governments as separate entities from the overall United States. To these actors, state and local governments are just as much a part of the United States as the federal government, and they are just as vulnerable to cyber threats. This is a significant problem because the United States does not have a unified defense or response to cyber-attacks. Local governments are responsible for their own cybersecurity measures, and there is often a lack of coordination between different levels of government. This fragmented approach to cybersecurity creates vulnerabilities that nation state actors can exploit, putting the entire nation at risk. To address this problem, it's crucial for state and local governments to work together and with the federal government to develop a coordinated approach to cybersecurity. This approach should include information sharing, joint training and exercises, and a clear incident response plan that outlines the roles and responsibilities of different entities in the event of a cyber-attack. By working together, we can create a stronger, more resilient defense against cyber threats and protect our nation's critical infrastructure and services.

"The most effective weapon against crime is cooperation…" J. Edgar Hoover

Arizona is a Leader in Cybersecurity Collaboration

The state of Arizona is taking a unique and innovative approach to address the cybersecurity challenges facing its local governments. With many local governments in Arizona below the cyber poverty line, they are not able to leverage basic cybersecurity services. In response, Arizona has taken a whole of state approach to address these cybersecurity gaps. Instead of each local government entity trying to fend for themselves, the state is promoting a One Team approach that brings together local, state, and private sector partners to develop comprehensive cybersecurity solutions. By working together, Arizona aims to provide better capabilities than any single entity could achieve alone. This approach recognizes that government entities cannot provide the best-in-breed cyber protections that the private sector partners are developing with their research and development efforts. By partnering with the private sector, Arizona hopes to leverage the latest cybersecurity technologies and strategies to enhance the cybersecurity posture of local governments and protect the state's critical infrastructure and services.

Greater Collaboration

Effective collaboration between local governments and other entities requires more than just monthly meetings. We need to be able to share intelligence in near-real-time and ensure that the information is actionable and timely. Leveraging purchasing power is another key aspect of effective collaboration, allowing local governments to pool their resources and get better deals on cybersecurity solutions. Mutual aid agreements should not just be limited to incidents but should also extend to smaller items. This approach allows local governments to share staff time and expertise with other agencies and reciprocate as needed. Ultimately, we are better together, and it's essential to pay it forward by sharing knowledge, resources, and expertise with our partners. By collaborating and coordinating, local governments can enhance their cybersecurity posture, better protect their critical infrastructure and services, and ultimately serve their communities more effectively.

Effective collaboration is vital to addressing the cybersecurity challenges facing local governments and critical infrastructure sectors. However, collaboration that only takes place during monthly meetings is not enough. Collaboration must go beyond just these occasional meetings to effectively address cybersecurity threats. Collaboration needs to be ongoing, timely, and actionable, with a focus on sharing intelligence, knowledge, and expertise in real time. Regular communication and coordination between local governments, private sector partners, and other relevant entities are critical to developing and implementing effective cybersecurity strategies. By working together consistently and proactively, local governments can improve their cybersecurity resilience, better protect their communities, and be better prepared to respond to cyber incidents when they occur. Ultimately, effective collaboration is essential to addressing the complex and evolving cybersecurity threats faced by local governments and critical infrastructure sectors.

“It is not enough for the information technology workforce to understand the importance of cybersecurity; leaders at all levels of government and industry need to be able to make business and investment decisions based on knowledge of risks and potential impacts.” - President Obama, White House, May 29, 2009

Benefits

Collaboration at the scale of local government and critical infrastructure sectors can offer many benefits. One of the most significant advantages is the potential for economies of scale. By working together, local governments can pool their resources and leverage their combined purchasing power to acquire better cybersecurity solutions and services. Collaboration can also lead to economies of skill, with local governments sharing knowledge, expertise, and best practices, making everyone better at addressing cybersecurity challenges. Collaboration can also create economies of society, where local governments come together on a common mission and vision to enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect their communities' critical infrastructure and services. Finally, collaboration can be used as a force multiplier, allowing local governments to combine their resources and capabilities to address more significant and more complex cybersecurity threats effectively. Ultimately, collaboration can be a game-changer, enabling local governments to improve their cybersecurity resilience and better protect their communities against cyber threats.

Examples

Sharing knowledge and resources is a critical part of collaboration in cybersecurity, and sharing my incident response plan is a perfect example of the benefits of collaboration. By sharing the incident response plan between multiple local governments, they were able to save money and staff time, as well as ensure they were meeting critical compliance requirements. Since I shared my Incident response plan, it has been adapted and updated for many local agencies. Some of those other changes I have then incorporated into my plan. Truly we are better together. This type of collaboration allows local governments to build on each other's successes and work together towards a common goal of improving their cybersecurity posture. By sharing their expertise, knowledge, and resources, local governments can be better prepared to respond to cyber threats, which can have a significant impact on the communities they serve. Ultimately, this type of collaboration can help local governments maximize their limited resources and build stronger relationships with other agencies in the community, all while improving their overall cybersecurity resilience.

"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." - Ecclesiastes 4:12

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