Whitehall must weigh IT danger

Home secretary David Blunkett last week committed the government to phasing in biometric identity cards over the next five years...

Home secretary David Blunkett last week committed the government to phasing in biometric identity cards over the next five years and establishing a national identity database.

He was swift to reassure critics that the government and IT suppliers had both the technology and systems development capability to deliver the project on time and to budget.

The government repeatedly says that high-profile public sector IT disasters are a thing of the past. It is true that the Gateway Review process has brought some much needed best practice from the private sector to large-scale IT projects, but the jury is still out on whether this is enough to deliver success.

This week Computer Weekly reports on problems facing the Child Support Agency in migrating data to new computer systems.

Last week we reported on the debacle of the Libra IT system for magistrates courts and on the National Audit Office account of the collapse of the Ministry of Defence's stores inventory system, which was cancelled at a cost to the taxpayer of £118m.

The government is embarking on what it admits is a risky £2.3bn overhaul of health service IT. It is about to begin a £4bn IT procurement for the Ministry of Defence.

Perhaps we should see some real successes with the NHS and MoD projects before the Home Office spend billions of pounds on controversial new schemes.

No call to celebrate virus anniversary

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the first computer virus. Little could US computing student Fred Cohen have known what a can of worms he was opening when, in 1983, he wrote the first piece of malware as a proof-of-concept project, and how prescient his warnings were about the risk to networked systems.

Today, names such as Melissa, Love Bug, Kournikova, Nimda and SoBig are etched on the memories of beleaguered IT managers who battled to stay one step ahead of these attacks.

Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing effort to fix the vulnerabilities in its software that viruses exploit has proved a bigger challenge than Bill Gates ever imagined. After 20 years, viruses remain one of the greatest threats to the networked economy.

As virus writers become more sophisticated, so must the IT department in its management of patches and deployment of security technologies.

Read more on IT for government and public sector