In January, then President-elect Biden pushed for a $9 billion boost to the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) as part of a $1.9 trillion relief package. But in February, that funding was cut — a casualty of negotiations between the House and Senate.
This is the latest blow in an already difficult year for federal cybersecurity teams. The challenge of supporting suddenly remote workers added to the complexity brought on by cloud computing, IoT devices, and an ever-increasing threat landscape over the last decade.
How can federal security teams solve these issues with their existing budget? Keep reading to see some places to start.
What Should I Be Doing Now?
While many things are different, some things never change. A recent survey of federal IT leaders showed the top security challenge was… wait for it… budget. The TMF funding cut means that federal cybersecurity leaders must maximize their existing budget and resources.
We recommend the following steps to decide which projects your team should prioritize in this environment.
1. Understand What You Already Have
Many of the regulations impacting federal cybersecurity teams now – CMMC, CISA CDM, and NIST Cybersecurity Framework, to name a few — start with asset management. This is common sense to the point of being cliche’. It’s impossible to secure the unknown.
The best cybersecurity teams start with a detailed understanding of their assets — devices, users, cloud infrastructure, virtual machines, ephemeral devices, and more.
A comprehensive understanding of what you have will help you decide where to focus your resources. If your team has been adding cloud instances and VMs, it may suggest a different priority than if most assets are on-premise.
Understanding what you have also applies to your security tools. Many Axonius customers have found devices that should have endpoint agents installed, but don’t. Often, these licenses are already paid for. Discoveries like this enable you to recover license costs or identify where you need to install agents.
2. Automate What You Can
Highly successful federal cybersecurity teams use their resources efficiently. They understand that their most powerful resource isn’t a tool, but their team. We’ve heard from many agencies that a top priority is to free up high-value resources so they can focus on strategic activities, like threat hunting.
Automating routine tasks – like asset inventories – is a great way to free up key resources.
Manual asset inventories cost teams 89 hours every time one is completed. And as soon as they’re done, they’re immediately out of date. A real-time connected cybersecurity asset management platform can automate your asset tracking and provide real-time visibility into assets. This helps other tasks, like incident response, become more efficient.
3. Identify Your Agency’s Top Priorities
Axonius CISO Lenny Zeltser explained to Predictability 2021 attendees why aligning with leadership was the most important thing cybersecurity leaders could do to have a successful and predictable year.
If you’re like most federal cybersecurity leaders, there are no lack of “big problems” that need solving. Drawing a line between a problem you need to address and the mission of your agency dramatically increases the likelihood you’ll garner support. Better still if the problem is timely, like preparing for staff to return to the office.
Whatever you’re looking to solve, make sure it’s impactful enough to garner agency leadership support. Closing a major security gap, complying with a regulation, or enhancing visibility into assets can all be framed as big, timely problems that support your agency’s mission.
4. Pick Projects With High ROI
One interesting focus of the TMF is return on investment (ROI). Now, without the significant bump in the TMF, federal security teams still need to focus on ROI — but the window has gotten smaller.
Once your top priorities are identified, do an ROI calculation on each project. Take into account things like:
Reduced software costs
Improved access to necessary information
Use ROI as a guiding light to discover what you can support in your current budget year.
5. Build A Coalition Of Support
Most successful projects have one thing in common – they bring people together.
Once you define your priorities and calculate ROI, it's time to build a coalition of support. Your coalition can include:
Technology or support vendors
Find the key people in your agency to have on board and rowing in the same direction. This is one of the most important steps in any successful project.