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The role of cyber security in any organization is to protect sensitive information, systems, and programs from being infiltrated by bad actors with malicious intent. Having the proper cyber security infrastructure and personnel in place in government agencies protects both individual citizens and the nation or municipality in which they reside.

Fortunately, there are ways governments can ensure that they meet this goal. Discover the unique threats and vulnerabilities governments around the world face every day and how cyber security training and awareness give professionals the tools to combat them.

Cyber security threats in the government

As AI and other technologies make cybercrime easier, there’s a growing talent shortage to deal with these global affairs. Ali Ghorbani, a computer science faculty dean at the University of New Brunswick and founding director of the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity, predicts that in seven years, the world will need 40% more cyber security professionals than it currently has.

Some of the roles government agencies like the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service often hire for include:

  • IT security analyst
  • IT security officer
  • Intelligence officer
  • Network exploitation analyst

The cyber security landscape among global government entities is quite complex. Like companies, governments must be able to defend against many types of cyber threats, including the following:

In fact, Canada is the 24th most attacked country in the world. This shows that more than ever, the cyber security industry is in need of talented cyber professionals — and fast.

statistics infographic for cybersecurity attacks in the government


Ransomware attacks hold government networks or files hostage, blocking access until a sum of money is paid. If the ransom isn’t paid, the files may be stolen or wiped from the system entirely, resulting in system disruptions and information leaks. On the flip side, paying the ransom can result in devastating financial losses and dangerous precedents.


Phishing is when a scammer sends an email posing as a legitimate company to entice a government employee to reveal information that would allow them to access restricted accounts or information. If successful, phishing can lead to identity theft, financial losses, and disruptions in public service.


While phishing targets a mass of people, spearphishing targets one or a select number of individuals. Similar to phishing, spearphishing attempts to deceive its victims in order to reveal sensitive information. The impacts on government organizations can be costly — especially if the target is a high-ranking individual.


Espionage can be defined as a person or entity working on behalf of a foreign government or adversarial entity to get their hands on information that isn’t publicly available. If information regarding defence strategies is made known to a government’s enemies, it can jeopardize national security and reduce the military's effectiveness at defending the country.

State-sponsored warfare

While espionage aims to obtain information, the goal of state-sponsored warfare is to disrupt normal operations. Such disruption causes confusion and compromises a government entity’s ability to defend itself either on the ground or in a cyber war.

Insider threats

Insider threats involve individuals who work for or are closely affiliated with a particular agency using their authorized access to sensitive information to intentionally or unintentionally harm that agency. Insider threats deplete public resources, compromise integrity, and sew mistrust among the public and others who work for the agency.

Simon Bacher, CEO and co-founder of Ling App, says he’s keenly aware of the existing cyber threats and the role international collaborations play in enhancing cyber security efforts.

“The most pressing cybersecurity threats facing governments today are data breaches, ransomware attacks, and the misuse of AI. The latter presents a growing concern as artificial intelligence continues to evolve, posing an array of potential risks.”

Unique cyber security challenges in the government

When government cyber security attacks are carried out successfully, it’s usually because of system vulnerabilities. Here are some of the most common cyber security management challenges bad actors often exploit to target governments:

Classified information

Government organizations have access to a huge amount of information, including citizens’ personal details, military and defence strategies, and secrets that can give the country an edge in diplomacy or gaining power.

The sheer amount of classified information on government networks makes them a prime target for bad actors seeking to steal or wreak havoc.

Human error

Not everyone who works in a government position is tech-savvy. Government workers who lack proper training can be susceptible to phishing scams designed to infiltrate their accounts and steal valuable information.

Multiple devices

Many government officials use multiple devices throughout the course of any given day, and certain agencies have remote or hybrid staff or use hotdesking, which requires employees to use a different desk every day.

The use of multiple devices makes it easier for government employees to accidentally leave data open to hackers or unscrupulous insiders who want to leverage information for their own gain.


Sometimes, it's not a government entity that’s vulnerable but a third party with which they must share data. Many governments buy goods and services from contractors. If a contractor lacks critical infrastructure for cyber security, it puts the government at risk of cyber attacks.

Legacy systems

Government agencies are often criticized for being slow to adopt new technologies. Consequently, many run on outdated legacy systems that make them easy targets for attacks.

A prime example is the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, in which bad actors stole technology invented by the U.S. National Security Agency and used it to attack computers across 150 countries with an outdated version of the Windows operating system.

Talent acquisition

Some government organizations have to grapple with shortages of qualified cyber security professionals. They might recognize the need for better cyber security tactics but lack employees with the knowledge and skills to implement them. Interested in a cyber security career within the government sector? Speak to our Admissions Team to explore your opportunities.

Consequences of cyber security breaches in the government

Cyber security breaches that affect government entities and associated organizations can have destructive consequences.

For example, government database hacks are a threat to public safety, as bad actors can steal money from private citizens or open fake accounts in their name. Moreover, repeated data breaches can cause citizens to lose trust in a government institution or agency, its elected and appointed officials, and its initiatives or agendas.

Government officials must also remain conscious of the fact that even individual instances of identity theft can present national security concerns. Consider the United States’ indictment of 11 Russian operatives for their alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

FBI reports claim that these operatives used stolen identities to open bank accounts, purchase access to servers, and spread misinformation on social media. In this way, investigators allege that another country weaponized the theft of individual identities against the state.

Data breaches can also threaten national or municipal security in other ways. For example, cybercriminals could gain access to classified information about government operations or military weapons and tactics.

In the wrong hands, such information could be used to attack the country, gain the upper hand in diplomacy or war, or interfere with the delivery of important shared services, such as those provided following a natural disaster.

Finally, if a government entity falls victim to a ransomware attack, it may have to pay millions of dollars to recover those files and restore the system. This, in turn, takes money away from critical projects and services and may affect national sentiment if taxpayers feel their money is being wasted.

“The general public plays a crucial role as the first line of defence in any government's cybersecurity framework. Governments, however, should actively invest in public education around safe online practices and the importance of reporting suspicious activities,” says Bacher.

The role of training and awareness

It’s vital to acknowledge the role of awareness in combating cyber crime.

Penny Longman, Director of Information Security and Data Stewardship at Fraser Health Authority, states in a recent Lighthouse Labs interview that the industry is “shifting left of boom.” This means that governments and other entities are focusing on preventing data breaches with better software design, improved application security, upgraded architecture, and other proactive approaches.

Effective prevention demands adequate numbers of cyber security personnel. These professionals must have the expertise needed to create and implement sophisticated security plans, monitor and mitigate suspicious activity, and respond quickly and appropriately to contain data breaches when they occur.

It’s also crucial to train regular staff members to avoid falling victim to phishing scams that could compromise their account information.

Lighthouse Labs’ Cyber Security Program

Lighthouse Labs provides a robust cyber security training program that gives students the essential skills they need to provide airtight protection for modern networks and systems.

Choosing from a 12-week full-time or 30-week part-time delivery method, students receive training in:

  • Network security
  • Encryption
  • Incident response
  • Coding
  • Forensics
  • Threat defence operations
  • Blue team
  • Threat detection engineering

Students will learn both cyber security fundamentals and relevant industry frameworks so they can be ready to defend governments against attackers.
For example, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service often hires security analysts, a job that requires knowledge of and experience with the NIST Incident Handling and Containment Process. This is one of the many skills trainees have the opportunity to learn as part of Lighthouse Labs’ Cyber Security Program.

Lighthouse Labs’ program also has a module covering the fundamental concepts of security policies, governance, risk management, and compliance. Students learn about the different types of security policies and how to maintain effective security policies that align with the goals and objectives of an organization.

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Become a Cyber Security Professional in as little as 12 weeks!

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Best practices for government cyber security

As governments invest more in cyber security amid rising threats, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (the Cyber Centre) and other lead security agencies recommend several best practices:

First, governments must employ multi-layered security. While firewalls are a good start, they aren’t enough on their own. Agencies also need to employ sophisticated password policies, train employees to spot phishing scams, implement role-based access control, and use multi-factor authentication to eliminate vulnerabilities across devices.

Next, employing continuous monitoring and a strong incident-response plan is also key to catching bad actors who use stealth tactics and quickly isolating parts of the network that become compromised.

Additionally, governments should collaborate with international partners, allies, and private sector businesses to bolster cyber defences, promoting the exchange of successful tactics and augmenting the labour force. Equip yourself with the skills to tackle the unique cyber security challenges in government sectors with our Cyber Security Program.

Government cyber security FAQs

What is cyber security in government?

Cyber security in government agencies aims to protect sensitive information on government servers, including classified documents and citizens’ private details.

What are notable cyber attacks on the Canadian government?

The Canadian government has recently suffered several high-profile cyber attacks. These include the exposure of citizen and employee information at its Global Affairs department in January 2024 and an attack on FINTRAC, its financial intelligence agency, during the first weekend of March 2024.

Why is cyber security important in local government?

Cyber security in local government helps avoid ransomware attacks that are costly to resolve because of large monetary demands and the high price of data breach recovery. It also safeguards citizens’ private information and keeps critical systems and services running smoothly.

What does cyber security governance do?

Cyber security governance ensures that governments take a multi-layered approach to security, continuously monitor incidents, develop rapid, effective response plans, and collaborate with political allies and private sector businesses to bolster defences and personnel.