Limited network visibility and a lack of standardized IT capabilities have led to an increase in cybersecurity risk across three-quarters of U.S. federal agencies, according to a new government report.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), recently published the “Federal Cybersecurity Risk Determination Report and Action Plan” in response to a presidential executive order issued last year. The researchers used 76 metrics to assess the way federal agencies protect data. Of the 96 agencies analyzed in the report, the OMB classified 71 as “at risk” or “high risk.”

Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Reveals Persistent Challenges

Although 59 percent of agencies said they have processes in place to communicate cybersecurity risk issues, the report’s authors concluded that 38 percent of federal IT security incidents did not have an identified attack vector. In other words, those who encountered a data breach were not able determine how their defenses were penetrated. As a result, the OMB vowed to implement the Director of National Intelligence’s “Cyber Threat Framework” to improve its situational awareness.

Meanwhile, only 55 percent of agencies said they limit network access based on user roles, which opens up myriad cybersecurity risks, and just 57 percent review and track admin privileges.

Standardization can also help reduce risk in government applications. According to the report, a scant 49 percent of agencies have the ability to test and whitelist sofware running on their systems. The authors also suggested consolidating the disparate email systems used across agencies, since this is where phishing attacks are often aimed.

An Untenable Security Situation

The OMB cited a need to beef up network visibility and defenses. Its cybersecurity risk assessment revealed, for instance, that only 30 percent of agencies have processes in place to respond to an enterprisewide incident, and just 17 percent analyze the data about an incident after the fact.

“The current situation is untenable,” the report asserted. As a result, the authors noted that the DHS is working on a three-phase program to introduce tools and insights to solve security issues, which will begin later this year.

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