The US is leading the world in a dangerous way: The country's federal agencies suffer the most data breaches by volume compared to other governments worldwide.
A new study by Thales E-Security and 451 Research, which is based on responses from IT professionals in the federal sector, found the US is experiencing higher rates of data breaches compared to the past, as well as higher rates compared to other governments. While 26% of non-US agencies reported breaches in the last year, 57% of US agencies also reported them.
This is almost double the 34% rate reported in 2016, and three times the 18% reported in 2015.
In total, the report found that 71% of all federal agencies have been breached over the years.
There has been a response by these agencies, notably in what they spend on. Of those surveyed, 93% reported that their agencies will increase IT security spending compared to last year and 73% report that their IT security spending will be much higher.
Encryption technologies designed to protect data were reported to increase at a 77% rate. Not only that, 88% of respondents reported that data and file encryption will be implemented this year, with 77% noting that application-level encryption would be performed.
This compares to the 89% reporting that data masking would be implemented, as well as the 84% who told researchers that cloud-based encryption would be done. This is needed since only 23% noted that encryption is currently being used in the cloud.
The changes that are underway show how important cloud computing has become to the federal government. The report states that 100% of all federal agencies have plans to adopt cloud technologies. But this sort of mass adoption brings security challenges with it.
For instance, once an agency has moved to the cloud, it may have little or no control over how data is actually stored or protected while at rest. Paradoxically, however, agencies may allow the cloud provider to control their encryption keys for their containers rather than owning and managing the keys themselves.
Showing the problem starkly, the agencies were also concerned about the custodianship of encryption keys in the cloud -- 69% reporting that it was a problem.
They should be concerned. This kind of behavior could be a violation of NIST 800-53, FedRAMP and the federal risk management framework, which require agencies to maintain control of access to their data.
The kinds of security tools that are being funded may not be the best for a situation. The pros knew that data-in-motion and data-at-rest defenses -- recognized at 78% and 77%, respectively -- were the most effective tools for protecting data.
However, Garrett Bekker, one of the report's authors, writes: "The largest amount of respondents plan to increase spending on endpoint and mobile devices, despite ranking endpoint and mobile devices as least effective at protecting sensitive federal data -- a major disconnect."
The report suggests that this kind of disconnect may be due to previous experiences with legacy systems. In the report, 53% of respondents cited a lack of budget as a perceived barrier to security. Agencies may not realize that today's security tools can cost less and impose a minimal overhead on existing systems compared to legacy tools.
It's clear from the report that the US will have to strengthen its adoption of encryption technologies to protect its data as it moves to the cloud. Fortunately, the plans to adopt such technologies, such as encryption gateways and third-party encryption key managers for cloud environments, are growing.
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— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.