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Raising Standards in Risk Management for UK Public Sector

May 09 2022

The UK’s public sector has now had three months to digest the first UK Government Cyber Security Strategy and start building it into their short and long-term plans. With the strategy specifically calling upon public sector organisations to lead by example, the clock is ticking for action to follow the guidelines. 

The strategy states that “the increasing dependency of businesses, government and wider society on cloud and online services is creating new and unique vulnerabilities and interdependencies.” Adopting cloud services can be both an enabler and, if not fully understood, an extra attack vector for threat actors and a source of data loss. 

Our data shows that in 2021, just over two-thirds of all malware downloads came from cloud apps, with familiar and trusted apps including OneDrive and Google Drive accounting for the majority of downloads. This is a reflection of both attacker activity and user behaviour: attackers tend to abuse popular apps to reach more victims, and users are more likely to download malware from popular apps with which they interact regularly.

It is worth noting too that cloud services and applications do not only pose a risk of cyber threat, but are also the most common vector for data loss. This is especially important in the public sector, where organisations store extensive amounts of personally identifiable data, in many cases including the most sensitive special categories of personal data, as well as health and finance information. And even organisations that have avoided official cloud adoption need to be cautious, as we never fail to unearth a long list of unmanaged apps being used by every organisation we work with.

The UK Cyber Security Strategy is very clear:  “We require government departments, the wider public sector and regulated operators of critical national infrastructure (CNI), to raise their standards and manage their risk more proactively.” 

So how can you do this?  

  1. Organisations need better controls, but to make those controls effective you need greater visibility. Without visibility, it is impossible to move to a more proactive risk mitigation model. Ask yourself; What visibility do we have into how we are being attacked? What visibility do we have into data sets that are exposed or at risk of data loss? 
  1. Become more nuanced in what you “see.” For example, how do you differentiate between your own instance of OneDrive, that of a service provider or partner, a personal instance belonging to an employee, or perhaps an instance hosting malware? This level of visibility requires instance awareness and, in turn, requires that your security technology is a native speaker of the languages of the cloud (not HTML, but API and JSON).
  1. Make your controls dynamic, adjusting trust based on live decisions. What insight do you have into the actions users are performing? Gaining this understanding will allow organisations to not simply block unmanaged SaaS apps, but to allow controlled access, permitting most actions, but prohibiting certain actions such as upload or sharing. You can be even more clever—making decisions based on a range of granular details such as device, user, location, type of data they are accessing, and what they are trying to do with it. Such sensitive controls are perfectly realistic… once you have the insights to drive them. You can read more about Adaptive Zero Trust here.

A Zero Trust strategy, enabled by granular insights, is going to be key in ensuring that UK public sector organisations are at the forefront of cybersecurity best practices. With the US Government mandating that all departments and agencies meet their Zero Trust Architecture strategy by 2024, should the UK be following a similar approach? 

Netskope will be exhibiting at CyberUK on Tue 10th and Wed 11th May—please come and see us on Stand A53 to find out how Netskope can help you gain better visibility into your managed and unmanaged use of cloud services and applications. 

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Richard Davis
Richard Davis is Director, Solution Strategy at Netskope.

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