UK's security is benefiting from IT investment, watchdog says

The UK security community's massive upgrade of information and communications technology is starting to show benefits despite delays with key projects and poor operating practices, according to a parliamentary watchdog committee.

The UK security community's massive upgrade of information and communications technology is starting to show benefits despite delays with key projects and poor operating practices, according to a parliamentary watchdog committee.

Paul Murphy, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, outlined three major IT-related projects in his annual report published this week.

These are a £1bn upgrade to the UK's electronic surveillance system, a secure network to enable information sharing between security agencies and other government departments, and the installation of an integrated financial and human resource administration system at the Security Service.

Phase Two of Scope, the new secure network that links the UK's security services, will now start between mid-2008 and early 2009, three years late, Murphy said. The delay will allow extra government departments to align their business processes and prepare to link up.

The new start date follows delays to phase one and a "serious process failure", which resulted in the loss of some operational data at the Scope operations centre.

Murphy said phase one, which allows HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Home Office to share information, went live in October 2007. Other government departments that receive information via Scope include the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and others.

Scope, which is the backbone for Soca's secure communications, was already showing results, Murphy said. "The average time taken to initiate and process a request for information has been reduced from nearly 12 hours to just 15 minutes. HMRC has reported more fluid and efficient communication and a greater demand for its intelligence," he said.

Referring to a massive upgrade at GCHQ, the government's communications security agency, Murphy said it had increased the ability to access, process and store messages and improved connections between GCHQ databases and those of the Security Service to allow analysts to work collaboratively and share data. It also provided an applications-hosting service to provide greater flexibility and efficiency to GCHQ's software developers.

Murphy also reported that the security service is overhauling its administration with "a computer and database management facility on which much of the service's administrative, corporate, and financial planning will depend."

He quoted the former director general who said, "[It] is a project that we believe is overdue to help us run all the things to do with a much bigger workforce in other words, using it to map skills, promotions, transfers, expenses, et cetera. We have systems for all of that, but they are old systems. They make it difficult for a senior manager to pull all that information together."

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