Cyber security and data loss prevention dominate the daily concerns of local and county government technology leaders, according to a survey report by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) and the Public Technology Institute (PTI).
What makes the findings perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that the research was performed before the coronavirus pandemic had generated a number of cyber security threats for organizations.
CompTIA, an advocate organization for the global IT community, and PTI, association representing state and local governments, earlier this year conducted an online survey of 102 U.S. CIOs, CTOs, and related staff with technology responsibility within local and county government.
A large majority of the respondents (93%) said cyber security and data loss prevention will be their top priority over the next two years. The next most commonly mentioned priority, innovation and application technologies, was cited by 68%. And this was followed by modernization of outdated IT systems and applications (55%).
The 2020 State of City and County IT National Survey, an annual report on city and county technology and workforce trends, clearly makes the point that cyber security is top of mind among these executives. And the latest threats, such as malware and phishing related to the pandemic, can only have added to their concerns.
Given the rise of ransomware attacks at the local level in 2019 and into 2020, it’s understandable that cyber security remained such a big concern of local government CIOs, noted Alan Shark, executive director of PTI.
Among specific areas for improving their organization’s cyber security posture, 70% of respondents identified security awareness training for staff as the highest priority.
Other high-priority measures for cyber security enhancement among city and county IT professionals included modernizing defenses to account for cloud security, fostering a security mindset across all facets of city and county government, adopting a cyber security framework based on national standards, and updating policies to better address the changing threat landscape.
Local government technology executives are also seeking ways to move beyond simply maintaining and safeguarding their networks, by adopting new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, 5G, drones, and augmented and virtual reality.
At the same time, the need to train staffers in these emerging technologies and keep them aware of the ever-evolving landscape of cyber security continue to be an essential component of an effective IT program, Shark said.
When asked to rank the importance of technology and skills training for their departments, 80% of the survey respondents cited cyber security training as the top requirement. That was followed by improving the user experience with IT support and better understanding of network infrastructure and systems reliability and performance.
Collaboration among different facets of the government, including local and state organizations and cross-jurisdictional agencies working together, could be a key to stronger security. Although nearly half of the respondents characterized their jurisdictional relationship with the state CIO as non-existent, top collaboration opportunities cited included cyber security assistance and aligned cyber security strategies.
While many city and county CIOs indicated they could identify many potential opportunities and saw clear value in collaboration between one another and their state counterparts, Shark said, the reality is in most cases there are no relationships in place. However, the pandemic has shown IT operations and management to be more essential than ever in supporting critical public health services and delivering smart government systems, he said. So in the future it’s likely that cross-jurisdictional and local-state collaboration will accelerate.
Also on the rise is use of the cloud by government agencies, which creates additional security challenges. City and county IT executives are also continuing to redefine their cloud computing strategies, to increase the efficient of operations and management of their IT infrastructure, the report said. About two thirds of the respondents indicated local governments have implemented new cloud applications.
As the report concludes, cyber security continues to remain the number one concern of local government CIOs, and will likely remain so throughout this decade as nefarious and criminal exploitations grow more aggressive and sophisticated.
The pandemic will most likely accelerate the trend toward cross-jurisdictional and local-state government collaboration. And despite growing concern regarding the possibility of diminishing resources in the near future, IT leaders in the sector will continue to work toward applying emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain, and the cloud.
“Governments of all sizes realize now, as never before, the critical role that technology plays in delivering services to the public,” the report stated. “Technology touches everything that we do. And there is every reason to hope that this acknowledgement will translate into more support from our elected and appointed leaders.”
That includes making sure IT resources are as secure as possible.