Public institutions are increasingly on hackers’ radars.


As they attempt to extort money, steal data and wreak havoc on the organisations they target. And these hackers are becoming ever more professional, carefully selecting their victims and setting their sights on hospitals and administrative institutions.

“Critical infrastructure operators are just as lucrative a target as other businesses,” according to the home page of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). In the public sector, the potential for damage is enormous, partly because an attack has consequences for the every day citizen as well as was demonstrated in a recent attack on the Anhalt-Bitterfeld municipality’s servers. In extreme cases, such an event could be life threatening as we saw around a year ago in the case of a hack on the Düsseldorf University’s servers, which also took out the university clinic’s IT.

“There is another motivation driving more recent attacks on public institutions and that is to manipulate elections,” explains Christian Grusemann, Business Manager Security, Bechtle AG. “The rapid professionalisation of criminal hackers has resulted in a growing number of clients who’d would like to use their services, and who don’t shy away from leveraging immoral means if they mean they can benefit in some way.”

One of the most favoured of these methods is ransomware, which are programs that encrypt data making it entirely unusable. One of the most common tactics is for hackers to send the affected person or organisation a message demanding a ransom be paid before their data is unencrypted. However, there is no guarantee that this will actually happen.
Potential measures against such attacks can be split into roughly three areas, which Christian Grusemann describes as preventative, detective and reactive—or avoid, monitor and combat.
Reactive measures are those that are too late because the attack has already been successful. This is when specialists in crisis teams and task forces come into play, investigating the attack and attempting to recover systems and data. “Charges have to be pressed and a thorough criminal investigation carried out,” says Christian Grusemann. It’s crucial to know the right people if the worst does come to the worst, but this is only one pillar of a successful digital security concept.

The second is consistent monitoring, but experts who spend their days examining servers, applications, data traffic and other components for security issues are often out of the financial reach of some public institutions of certain sizes. With the Hospital Future Act, the government is providing funds for the digitalisation and IT security infrastructure of hospitals and health care facilities. “The billions of euros on offer thanks to the Hospital Future Act is in response to the cyberattack on the University Clinic in Düsseldorf,” explains Christian Grusemann. The programme sees the federal government and states take on up to 75% of the investment necessary for the protection of data and infrastructure.

The third pillar of an end-to-end IT security strategy is the bundling of a range of preventative measures with the aim of minimising both the risk of an attack and its potential impact and this is essential for institutions whose resources are largely tied up. This is because on the one hand, a suitably structured IT architecture can, to a certain extent at least, compensate for cost-intensive monitoring, while on the other hand, employees, who are aware of the risks, reduce the probability of an attack.

There is no 100% guaranteed protection against a cyberattack“, says Christian Grusemann. „And that is why it is so important to adapt an IT security strategy to your own needs. It is essential to get good quality advice and consultation if you want to ensure successful, economical and bullet-proof concepts.

Traditional IT tends to leverage several tactical security solutions based on standalone solutions, which usually results in an incredibly complex security infrastructure. Public sector customers, who use a variety of tools, can have security vulnerabilities at interfaces throughout their entire ecosystem. Especially when the operating system changes. The solution is a security model that is based on newly adapted technologies and puts an individual security strategy into practice. Bechtle has been by the side of its public sector customers on their path towards digital transformation for many years, supporting them in the implementation of future-proof IT architectures with secure concepts that truly benefit the population.