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Forget August - Go Swimming Instead

Stories are like buses. When you want one as a subject for ‘Thought for the Day’ you can’t find any and when you do finally spot one, then it’s not alone.

August isn’t the best time to be writing about IT as anyone who can, has escaped to the sun. I’m taking as short break as well, to return as programme director for next year’s eCrime Congress, so you can expect to read rather more about eCrime and punishment in the coming months.

Today, I see that NTA Monitor has released a report that reveals one in two government bodies have in excess of ten vulnerabilities in their networks and an average of 73% show worrying firewall lapses. Does this come as a surprise? Certainly not, which possibly explains the reluctance on the part of government to respond positively to interview requests for the special report on trustworthy computing that Computer Weekly published in May.

In all fairness, many government agencies and departments take security very seriously, as does the likes of Kent County Council, who I visited only last week, to look at a secure VPN they have implemented, using Windows Terminal Services to support access from remote workers using ‘personally-owned’ equipment. Great idea I thought, no loss of functionality and lots of strong firewall and token-based security with no potential for sensitive information leakage to personal hard drives that might one-day turn-up at a boot sale. Having met with a number of local authorities this year, Kent’s example is certainly one to follow, at a time when the public sector needs to think harder and more clearly about the security issues that surround the ‘joined-up’ government agenda.

If security is one problem, then availability is another and I see that www. was unavailable from around 7:25am on Thursday July 24th to 6:55pm on Friday July 25th. Parallel, the company, which revealed this information, also found that our friendly tax collection service and flagship of digital excellence resembled Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat between July 22nd and 29th and was only available for a total of thirty-eight hours, a proud record of 75% availability. If this were a private sector organisation of similar size, I suspect someone might be fired but the uneasy relationship between services and the Treasury is vague at the best of times, and both the NHS and the Inland Revenue continue to lavish huge amounts of money on IT with little visible benefit.

Call me old fashioned but I think we should reasonably expect the same levels of security and availability from the public sector as we do from the private sector, which is of course accountable to shareholders, rather than special committees. Unfortunately, readers tell me, through the mail bag, that while a great deal of investment goes towards choosing the best solutions and procedures, it’s paperwork, poor management and rivalries that interfere with the end result, which is why we see £96 million being spent on the NHS email system and the Inland Revenue stumbles from one embarrassment to the next.

I wonder, if eGovernment was switched-off during August and like Parliament, went on holiday to Ibiza for a month, if anyone would really notice, would you.?


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