When introduced efficiently, digital transformation undoubtedly has a positive impact on the quality and accessibility of public services in the UK, with investment in digital tools becoming a key element of the government’s future planning strategies
In light of last year’s WannaCry ransomware attack, in which 45 NHS sites in the UK and over 100 countries were hit, cyber security has never been more a more pressing issue for the public sector. Blackpool Council is one local authority keen to utilise digital tools to tackle its wide-ranging challenges.
In a major town of nearly 150,000 people, Blackpool Council provides network services for most of the state schools and public libraries in the area, as well as for a multitude of its own office sites.
The council faces a number of challenges including building defences to combat an increasingly changing threat landscape, drive efficiencies due to school budget cuts, and safeguard citizens.
Following the Conficker computer worm outbreak in 2009, Blackpool Council became an early adopter of enterprise firewalls at the heart of its infrastructure, which were deployed by Fortinet.
The email threat landscape has since continued to grow at a phenomenal pace, with +90% of all emails filtered out as spam. This is in the region of half a million emails per day.
The council is also at the forefront of safeguarding, including implementing the Prevent agenda for schools and the wider community. Prevent is one of four strands of the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy, Contest. Prevent is designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities; and requires teachers, faith leaders, doctors and others to refer any suspicions to a local Prevent body for assessment.
Building taller walls
The council’s cyber security concerns came to a head during the WannaCry attack in May 2017. Fortunately, Blackpool was protected from WannaCry having invested in transformative digital subscriptions already, which meant that the signatures of WannaCry were quickly detected and prevented from entering the Blackpool network, whilst other cyber hygiene was brought up to date.
Since then, other technologies from Fortinet have been added, so that the team is able to gain greater visibility and proactively respond to any new or emerging threats on the network.
Now, Council members take an active interest in the council’s cyber defences – and regular reports are provided by the CIO / SIRO to the council’s Audit committee.
Driving efficiencies in times of austerity
Despite a backdrop of austerity across the nation, the council’s IT service has remained viable through traded and managed services, with a significant proportion of income coming from schools.
The Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) network delivered to schools in Blackpool in conjunction with the council’s network partner The Networking People was extremely agile. In order to meet the needs of the largest Multi Academy Trust in Blackpool, a new virtual network was installed in September 2017, a cost-effective move which provided schools with a seamless migration to the WAN.
Complying with Prevent
Due to the raised profile of the Prevent agenda, one of Blackpool’s largest schools, built under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, was coming under increased scrutiny to ensure that appropriate safeguarding was in place.
The school faced significant budget challenges with the licensing model of the incumbent filtering solution within the school. They also had concerns that whilst some filtering was in place on desktop machines, there were ways to potentially bypass the filtering service due to the ingenuity of its pupils. Blackpool Council recognised this and enhanced the school’s capabilities with its partner The Networking People, with the utilisation of locally-based enterprise firewalls.
This included proactive alerting of potential child protection and radicalisation issues, and also included SSL deep packet inspection to identify any inappropriate activity via encrypted services. The guest WiFi services were also replaced with personally identifiable information for all guest users.
Security and compliance continues to increase in complexity with data now traversing way beyond the council’s immediate infrastructure, into the cloud, the home and on to a multitude of devices.
Through its investment in digital transformation, Blackpool Council has simplified its approach to security and proactively combats threats across its network. An added benefit is that the council can now group all networks and infrastructure devices into a business group, which helps its staff to spot the impact of any risks: network, component event or failure.
This is useful in meeting compliance regimes, providing greater transparency to stakeholders, increasing its responsiveness to new threats, and this has led to a notable increase in confidence in council meetings.
In the public sector, preparedness is key to ensuring that these modern-day challenges can be comprehensively met.
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