AWS Public Sector Blog

Streamlining the protection of cities, counties, and schools with AWS Marketplace

The rise in cybersecurity threats means city, county, and education leaders must consider how best to protect constituent and student data, financial information, services, and more. For K12 school districts, the ransomware growth trajectory is steeper than most other organizations. In fact, a recent report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) showed that over 50% of all ransomware attacks between the months of August and October were directed at K12 districts. Current K12 infrastructure is often insufficient, outdated, or not fully patched. Furthermore, K12 IT teams are understaffed and typically lack a dedicated security officer and Security Operations Center.

Like many states, Arizona recognizes cyberattacks as a critical hazard. In September 2022, the State of Arizona Department of Homeland Security (AZDOHS) launched a new program to bolster the cybersecurity of Arizona’s most vulnerable cities, counties, and K12 school districts. AZDOHS is putting $10,000,000 from general fund appropriations toward helping Arizona cities, counties, and K12 schools strengthen their security posture. The Arizona Statewide Cyber Readiness Grant Program enables local entities to reduce their cyberattack surface by accessing technical assistance and software licenses across five functional areas: advanced endpoint protection, converged endpoint management, multi-factor authentication, security awareness training, and web application firewall.

To date, the program has generated so much interest from city, county, and K12 schools that the State expects all available licenses to be claimed. The success of the Cyber Readiness Grant Program stems from three critical decisions made early in the planning process by Arizona Director of Homeland Security, Tim Roemer. The first decision was to offer software that was already in use by state agencies. When asked what prompted this decision, Ryan Murray, Arizona Deputy State Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), explained, “We have two governance groups that drive product selection. Both groups evaluate products that help us meet NIST and Center for Internet Security controls. We look for products that reduce risk the most at the best value for taxpayers. We re-evaluate periodically to make sure that our security products are performing as expected and to see if there are new solutions on the market.” Given these needs, the Cyber Grant Task Force selected two software providers hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Tanium and CrowdStrike to assist cities, counties, and schools with improving their cybersecurity posture.

The second decision was to use AWS Marketplace to procure and deploy the security software. AWS Marketplace streamlines the traditional labor-intensive and time-consuming software procurement process, making it more efficient and cost-effective. Deputy CISO Murray said that administration of the Cyber Readiness Grant Program is handled by a team of two, so he looked for ways to streamline vendor management. He explained, “Trying to manage and monitor all this deployment has been a monumental task, so seeing our subscriptions from various software vendors and resellers holistically in one place has been super beneficial. Being able to click a button to purchase was also fantastic. Marketplace provided an intuitive user experience.” AWS Marketplace simplifies contracting with multiple sellers, helps optimize software licensing costs, and maintains visibility across all accounts, thereby making it simpler and more cost-effective to track and manage software spending.

The third decision was how to allocate the funds. The Cyber Readiness Grant Program’s initial budget isn’t large enough to provide security software to every city, county, and school. Therefore, AZDOHS needed a process for deciding who can access the funds. Recipients are selected on a first come, first served basis with priority given to smaller and less resourced organizations with first responder responsibilities. AZDOHS hosted a series of roadshows throughout the state to share information and answer questions, making sure that potential recipients had all of the necessary details to apply for licenses. Since the program is funded by general appropriations, the recipients can expect for their licenses to be sponsored in an on-going manner. In fact, AZDOHS is gathering data to support an expansion of the program.

AWS executive government advisor and former North Carolina cyber chief, Maria Thompson, praised the state for their forward thinking: “This strategic move has given the State of Arizona the ability to not only gain visibility and leverage actionable threat data to reduce risks, but to provide a mechanism for the State to implement a layered whole of state security posture. A whole of state – collective defense model to security is crucial in closing the gaps state and local customers are faced with.” Tanium vice president, Jennifer Axt, also applauded Arizona’s statewide scaled approach: “Tanium’s partnership with AWS is critical to providing a fast, cost-effective, and scalable option that enables our customers to deploy Tanium’s converged endpoint management platform. By transacting on AWS Marketplace, the State of Arizona Department of Homeland Security will be able to quickly initiate its whole-of-state cybersecurity initiative.”

Despite only recently launching the program, the Arizona Statewide Cyber Readiness Grant Program is already having a big impact. Deputy CISO Murray said, “At first, we saw a lot of interest primarily from cities and counties. Then, we worked with Arizona Department of Education and The Trust [an entity that provides cyber insurance to AZ schools], and we’ve seen a massive influx of schools since then.” A model to states nationwide, Arizona is bolstering security at every level: by providing security software to those who need it most, enhancing incident response capabilities at every level, and making those transactions as secure as possible.

Learn more about AWS for cybersecurity in education and state and local government

As other state agencies move toward creating programs to support local government and K12 security, AWS is here to help. AWS Executive Government Advisors act as trusted advisors to help state security leaders navigate program creation, and AWS Marketplace simplifies vendor management and software deployment. Start now by exploring Security Solutions on AWS Marketplace.

Learn how AWS supports K12 schools and districts, and how state and local governments use AWS to improve services for their constituents.

Read more about AWS for education and state and local government:

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