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Why Government Institutions Are the Perfect Target for Hackers


Hackers have many reasons why they want to target governments and many methods of how to attack. The challenge governments face is how to protect against threats while staying compliant.

The days of “being lucky” are gone. Companies that thought they were safe from cyber attacks are now just fully at risk, and the “It won’t happen to me” mentality needs to change. Let’s do a quick recap of the most recent cyber events: increased ransomware on hospitals and health-care facilities; hacks on major supply chains and critical infrastructure organizations like SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, JBS and Kaseya; and executive orders and mandates pushing stricter cybersecurity protocols. Malicious attacks are rising from sophisticated criminal hacking groups, and there’s a continuous proliferation of larger companies being targeted. And when these companies are attacked, their reach goes beyond their organizational walls.

Hackers are looking for opportunities that give them “more bang for their buck,” and government agencies are the perfect target for a number of reasons:

  • Government agencies and institutions house highly sensitive information - a goldmine for hackers
  • The government is at the intersection of many different industries - attacks could be coming from all sides
  • Government IT and security teams are faced with a “do more with less” challenge - they don’t have the bandwidth to address and secure all threats
  • State and local governments are typically less funded than federal government institutions. Small budgets and scarce resources don’t protect against large-scale attacks - easier to target and easier to breach
  • The government has a huge reliance on third parties and contractors - one of the leading causes of cyber attacks

If hit with a cyber attack, government institutions have implications like those critical infrastructure or supply chain companies that could potentially affect thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of people. And while this is definitely something to be concerned about, the real concern lies in the threat of the unknown.


The threat of the unknown is daunting. You never know when a cyber attack is going to happen. If Colonial Pipeline could’ve terminated the VPN connection and established multifactor authentication before the criminal hacking group DarkSide hacked into their systems, we’re sure they would’ve taken those precautions.

You also never know how an attack could happen. Government agencies are inevitably vulnerable to attacks due to the high volume of confidential information they store (which is heavily targeted), their widespread reach across industries and the number of third parties they regularly deal with. Hackers see all of these vulnerabilities as opportunities to infiltrate governments and wreak havoc that expands beyond one government agency. But the most advantageous avenue for hackers poses threats that IT and security teams aren’t even aware of.


When a government uses a third party to perform a certain function, they are releasing control over assets that help maintain government security, such as network credentials and access to critical networks. Once that control is released externally to a third party, it immediately creates a new door for a hacker to open. All the hacker needs is the key.

Depending on the type of access third parties are granted (like a VPN connection into a network), third parties are providing the perfect gateway for hackers to breach the government perimeter. As we saw in the Colonial Pipeline attack, all it takes is an active VPN account of a former employee and a stolen password to break into one of the nation’s largest pipelines. Or if third-party contractors prefer remote desktop sharing, who’s to say that a hacker can’t create code to break into the sharing session and steal confidential government information? Third parties are giving away keys to these doors with every access attempt into government networks. Cybersecurity teams need to find solutions to bolt, lock, seal and secure those doors at all costs.


The question: How can governments prevent these threats that are seemingly unknown? After all, they don’t know who is accessing what on the other side of that third-party connection, nor are they aware of all the threats that come with external user access.

The answer: Find a solution that secures third-party access to mitigate risks and gain back control.

There are solutions that are specifically built to manage third-party remote access. They use zero-trust rules to narrow the scope of access each user has and track all third-party activity across networks, applications and systems. There are also solutions that can do all this while staying in compliance with industry regulations. Governments are required to comply with hefty CJIS regulations, but since the government is at the intersection of so many industries, they also adhere to industry standards like HIPAA, PCI and other industry compliance policies. The amount of regulations governments have to keep up with is undoubtedly overwhelming, not to mention the added stress caused by tracking the access of every third party or contractor from that industry. Streamlining remote access so it securely and efficiently protects against unknown threats is possible with the right solution.

Hackers have plenty of reasons why they would want to attack a government institution. They also have plenty of methods of how to attack. The challenge governments face is how they should protect against these threats that could come from a variety of places.

The answer may seem complex, but is actually simple: Find a solution that secures all possible avenues of entry for a hacker. And to make things even easier for you and your government organization, find a solution that meets compliance requirements for all the industry regulations your institution has to follow.