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Protecting critical infrastructure and services: Ensure efficient, accurate information delivery this election year

Government agencies aim to meet their citizens’ needs as efficiently and effectively as possible to ensure maximum impact from every tax dollar invested. As part of this mission, there is a drive to digitize services across all areas of government so citizens can meet their own needs faster and with greater convenience.

To address this, state and local governments are adopting multicloud environments to achieve the necessary speed, scale, and agility to keep up with faster digital transformation. While the benefits of multicloud environments are crucial to agency success, they introduce complexity and overwhelming data volumes that are impossible for humans to manage alone.

For example, government agencies use an array of cloud platforms spanning 12 environments on average. This is leading to increased complexity that is felt more acutely in the government sector than in any other industry. Nearly all government technology leaders (97%) reported the complexity of their technology stack has increased in the past 12 months. The same study found that 80% of government agencies are looking to consolidate the tools they use and adopt a unified platform for observability and security.

The importance of critical infrastructure and services

While digital government is necessary, protecting critical infrastructure and services is equally important.

Critical infrastructure and services refer to the systems, facilities, and assets vital for the functioning of society and the economy. These infrastructures are considered essential because their disruption would impact public safety, security, health, or economic stability.

At the city or county level, many components fall under critical infrastructure and services. These components include schools; transportation; energy; water; and communications such as the accuracy, timeliness, and transparency of election reporting. Protecting election reporting as part of critical infrastructure and services contributes to the integrity of elections and the legitimacy of elected officials. It also upholds democratic values and builds citizen trust.

While no one can deny the importance of protecting critical infrastructure and services, the complexity of multicloud environments makes it a pressing challenge. Unified observability is the key to success in resource-constrained local government agencies.

How observability helps IT protect modern environments

As dynamic systems architectures increase in complexity and scale, IT teams face mounting pressure to track and respond to issues across their multicloud environments. As a result, local government IT teams require greater observability to manage increasingly diverse and complex computing environments.

Observability has become more critical in recent years as cloud-native environments have gotten more complex. Greater complexity contributes to greater difficulty pinpointing root causes for failures or anomalies.

Observability differs from monitoring. In a monitoring scenario, teams typically preconfigure dashboards to alert about performance issues they may expect to see later. However, these dashboards rely on the critical assumption that teams can predict potential problems before they occur.

Cloud-native environments don’t lend themselves well to this type of monitoring. Their dynamic and complex nature obscures foresight of problems that might arise.

In contrast, observability enables teams to understand a system’s internal state by analyzing the data it generates, including logs, metrics, and traces. Full stack observability enables IT teams to identify and respond to evolving issues across the entire technology stack from mainframes to multicloud environments. Every hardware, software, cloud infrastructure component, container, open source tool, and microservice generates records of every activity within modern environments.

Observability driven by AI operations empowers IT to understand what’s happening across all these environments and among the technologies. This capability allows teams can detect and resolve issues to keep systems ¾ including critical infrastructure and services ¾ efficient and reliable, and citizens satisfied.

Application performance monitoring is insufficient without observability

Application performance monitoring (APM) allows IT to ensure system availability, optimize service performance and response times, and improve user experiences at the scale of modern computing. In today’s highly connected digital world, APM has rapidly expanded to encompass a broad range of technologies and use cases.

Mobile apps, websites, and business applications are typical use cases for APM. However, with today’s modern architectures, use cases expand to the services, processes, hosts, logs, networks, and end-users that access these applications (including an agency’s citizens and employees).

IT teams use APM tools to view and address the many variables that can impact an application’s performance. Causes can run the gamut, from coding errors and database slowdowns to hosting or network performance issues. Even a conflict with the operating system or the specific device used to access the app can degrade an application’s performance.

Without the combination of observability and APM tools, teams struggle to resolve the numerous problems that can arise. This increases the likelihood of constituents becoming frustrated by the poor experience and abandoning the website or app altogether. Incorporating observability into traditional monitoring approaches is essential for deeply understanding a modern multicloud system and remediating complex problems swiftly.

Maintaining secure government applications

Critical infrastructure and services are a potential target for cyberattacks, terrorism, or state-sponsored threats. Protecting these systems is integral to ensuring national security. A resilient infrastructure can withstand shocks, recover quickly, and maintain essential services during emergencies such as natural disasters or cyber-incidents.

Both in-house developers and agency-purchased software leverage third-party code libraries that contribute to security vulnerabilities. The practices that develop modern applications can introduce gaps in observability and security on exploitable vulnerabilities in the runtime stack. The critical Log4Shell vulnerability is a recent example.

Traditional perimeter defenses often lack precision as they require manual configuration. At the same time, they cannot protect against unanticipated attacks. Reliably detecting malicious activity requires full-stack visibility. Runtime Application Protection continuously protects applications by detecting and blocking attacks on application layer vulnerabilities, such as injection attacks.

When Log4Shell emerged in Dec 2021, security teams faced tremendous pressure to identify if they were affected and remediate. In the aftermath, some organizations reassigned developers and turned agency codebases upside down to look for and patch Log4Shell. However, these efforts were manual and time-consuming. A few minutes after Log4Shell was published, the Dynatrace Application Security Module identified its presence in production environments worldwide. Dynatrace customers instantly knew exactly where they were affected, prioritized the systems that required immediate attention, and didn’t waste time in war rooms or chasing false positives.

With such high stakes, it is vital that city and county governments can quickly identify vulnerabilities while continuously monitoring the security environment in critical infrastructure and services.

Enhance critical infrastructure and services with Dynatrace

Safeguarding critical infrastructure and services is not just an IT responsibility. It is a collective effort involving continuous vigilance and solutions that help people manage an increasingly complex IT environment. By doing so, agencies can ensure their communities’ safety, prosperity, and resilience.

Today’s multicloud environments offer many benefits yet also introduce complexity and overwhelming data volumes that are impossible for humans to manage alone. Given constraints in funding and hiring IT staff, state and local governments require a modern platform built to operate efficiently while effectively protecting critical infrastructure and services.

Discover more about establishing zero trust practices in government agencies with the free ebook: Achieve zero trust with observability.