The Hidden Costs of Cybercrime on Government

Organizations across the country – from the private sector to the federal government –  have become more digital, especially following the shift to remote work this year. It’s no surprise that cybercriminals around the world have taken notice. According to a new report by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), cybercrime is now a nearly trillion-dollar industry, and the government sector is not immune.

Across the board, the issue continues to rise – increasing the cost of cybercrime by nearly 50% since our last report in 2018. The threats to the government from cybercriminals are even greater, leading to potential national security risks as dark actors look to steal U.S. secrets and intellectual property.

All levels of government – from state and local to the federal government here in Washington – are taking steps to mitigate the issues, but they must do so differently than their private sector counterparts. Government respondents to the survey reported the highest number of malicious attacks, highlighting the high-stakes environment in which governments operate.

Unfortunately, the report also found that while government organizations face more attacks than their private-sector counterparts, they also take longer to remediate them, leaving our government services, infrastructure, and other critical aspects of society at risk for longer than they need.

A Discussion With CSIS

Earlier this week, McAfee’s CTO Steve Grobman joined CSIS for a conversation on the report and how we can continue to prepare for and mitigate the risk of cybercrime and its hidden costs with CSIS’ Jim Lewis and Zhanna Malekos Smith, former Federal CISO Grant Schneider and the FBI’s Jonathan Holmes.

Kicking off the discussion, Schneider highlighted the importance of the workforce and the need to take care of them so organizations can quickly rebound from an incident. Schneider noted that if an office were robbed, no one would blame the team, but with cybercrime, victims are often seen as the issue – leading to reduced employee morale and more issues later down the line.

Instead, Schneider argued on the importance of preparing the workforce and that preparation can take several forms, including risk management through NIST’s risk management framework. He also called for organizations to develop a recovery plan, engaging different departments, leadership and the public to be ready for when an incident occurs.

In his discussion of the report’s findings, McAfee CTO Steve Grobman noted they weren’t shocking. Grobman said that as we adopt new technologies, adversaries will continue to find new attack vectors.

This year was particularly notable as much of the federal government transitioned to a remote work environment overnight. As the workforce went remote – critical government information was accessed from home internet routers that lacked the same level of security as government office networks, increasing adversaries’ ability to successfully launch attacks.

Luckily, as Grobman noted, there are ways lawmakers can mitigate the threat of ransomware against government and the private sector.

What’s the solution?

Across the country, governments are facing ransomware attacks at an alarming rate, and every one of them – at every level – needs to have a plan in place. There needs to be a data-based discussion with leadership to decide how to balance the daily blocking and tackling of threats with limited complication to the continuation of operations and preparation for big intrusions like we’ve seen happen this year.

There are also policy solutions – many of these criminal groups operate in countries that allow them to do so. When negotiating trade deals with countries, the level of cybercrime and the government’s cooperation with or against those groups must be considered.

The cost of cybercrime is now nearly 1% of the global GDP, and it will only continue to rise, impacting companies and governments around the world unless we come together to stop it through basic cyber hygiene, preparation and policy solutions.

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