Government IT must submit to independent security testing to avoid data breaches


Government IT must submit to independent security testing to avoid data breaches

Rebecca Thomson

Government departments must use independent security experts to test the resilience of their IT systems under a government framework designed to prevent a repeat of HMRC’s high profile data breach.

The framework, published today by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, follows the loss of child benefit records by HMRC in November last year.

O’Donnell admitted the government’s data-loss problems were not only caused by staff mistakes but the lack of technical safeguards.

He said, "It should not have been possible to download the entire database onto removable, unencrypted discs."

From now on departments must have the resilience of their systems tested by independent IT experts (see point 18 in the framework), to ensure they have adequately addressed the risks. Departments holding personal data on more than 100,000 individuals must hire IT experts to conduct penetration testing on their systems.

The framework requires civil servants who need to access sensitive data outside the office to dial in on a home system or through a remote secure channel, rather than transfer data on a mobile device. All devices must be encrypted and the use of discs will be phased out.

The government plans to minimise access rights to information and will keep logs of electronically held information.

O’Donnell said, "There are technical systems answers to these issues and where possible these are the ones we need to use.

Departments must also address the culture surrounding data handling in government," he said.

They will be required to carry out Privacy Impact Assessments on projects and systems to ensure privacy issues are factored in from the start.

Information risk management will be incorporated into the government’s Gateway reviews that monitor the progress of the most important projects. And staff will be given annual training on the management of data.

For more of the latest revelations and conclusions about the HMRC data loss, read:

Cultural failures led to HMRC data loss, says report >>

Government should provide guidance on data breaches, say experts >>

HMRC staff in muddle over gandling sensitive data, says report >>

Summary of Poynter report and comment by Computer Weekly's Tony Collins >>

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