Data and network security are hot topics for all public sector organisations, and local authorities are no exception.
These would be tough enough tasks in normal times, but against a background of falling grants to local government, councils now have smaller budgets to keep their data and networks secure. When you throw a turbulent political climate into the mix, which
means public sector IT systems are more likely than ever to be targeted by hackers, there’s little wonder that local authorities are revisiting their data and network security strategies. Every council not only has to conform to stringent GDPR standards, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the personal data they hold, but their networks have to pass rigorous external checks by the National Cyber Security Council.
The holy grail for councils is to achieve better security for less. But the sheer breadth of the IT services they provide can make this seem like a Sisyphean task. Even a middle tier local authority is responsible for services that range from planning to recycling, housing to leisure centres and parks to environmental health.
Given that many councils use a mishmash of legacy IT systems, the task of integrating them is a major challenge – and one that makes data and network security much more difficult.
Better security for less
So how do councils go about achieving strong network and data security on a tight budget
Of course, every local authority has different systems and challenges, but they can all learn from good practice. In this respect, the work of Tendring District Council (TDC) in North East Essex is definitely worth looking at.
While it is a middle-tier council, it still has over 500 network users spread across almost a dozen sites, not to mention public wi-fi systems. In addition to serving a population of some 145,000 people, it caters to large numbers of seasonal tourists, many of whom are attracted to coastal resorts like Clacton, Frinton and Walton. That adds up to a lot of necessary systems, routers, firewalls and other network equipment.
As such, Tendring DC found that monitoring its network security was difficult. Indeed, the only reliable way of doing it was to manually analyse the different logs created by its full spectrum of software and applications. With only a small, in-house team responsible for data security, this was an error-prone and unsustainable way of working.
So when TDC turned to Intergence for help, our first task was to automate security monitoring. After an initial analysis, we recommended that the council introduced the CYBERShark security and compliance platform. This automatically gathers logs from the council’s IT systems, securely uploads them into the Cloud and analyses them for evidence of unusual activity and potential security issues. If it identifies a concern, key staff are immediately notified – enabling them to investigate immediately and take action if needed. At the same time, external security analysts receive the same notification, meaning council IT staff can draw on their expertise if needed at any time – saving the council the cost of hiring extra in-house people.
Freeing up resources
A major benefit of this approach is that it frees up valuable time and resources, allowing the council to do more with less. As TDC’s Security and Systems Manager says: “CYBERShark gives us instant, round-the-clock security management and a holistic view of our network. Because we know that we will be alerted to any unusual network events, we can put much more of our time into mitigation and remediation. The combination of the software and in-depth external expertise is highly cost effective at a time when we are having to make the most of our resources.
With a more secure network, you get more secure data. And because you have more resources, you can invest them in strategies to make your overall IT estate more efficient, cost-effective and reliable. We’ll be exploring powerful ways in which local authorities can do these things in future blog posts.