BSI survey highlights “significant variations” in data security readiness within UK’s public sector

An in-depth survey conducted by the BSI’s Cyber Security and Information Resilience Centre of Excellence in conjunction with GovNewsDirect has unearthed a range of inconsistencies in terms of how prepared the UK’s public sector organisations really are for potential cyber attacks and data losses.

In the last 12 months, 77% of those organisations surveyed have suffered a security breach. The most common causes were staff error (32%), phishing (30%), malware (18%), ransomware (11%) and Denial of Service (7%) attacks.

Although 94% of organisations said they have a plan in place to handle data breaches, 58% explained that they’re concerned or not confident about being able to access their application systems in the event of a cyber attack.

In today’s agile working environment, remote access has become integral to the provision of public services with over 73% of all staff having access to e-mails, while nearly one-in-five of all staff members have access to their organisation’s Customer Relationship Management system on a remote basis. The research also highlighted that 31% of organisations offer a Bring Your Own Device policy that applies to all staff.

The threat of data security breaches is exacerbated by the rise in ‘shadow IT’ that’s often used without the authorisation of IT managers. Organisational concerns around shadow IT include data loss (82%), security (78%) and unauthorised applications (51%).

Cloud adoption

The transition towards cloud-based IT systems is one of the positive findings of the research, with 52% of public sector bodies now using Office 365 and a further 30% in the process of adopting it. 68% of respondents said that disaster recovery/business continuity was the main reason for moving to the cloud, followed by the ability to provide mobile/remote working access (58%) and security (57%).

Commenting on the survey, Stephen Bowes (head of solutions delivery and IT at the BSI) explained: “The results of our survey highlight security concerns and implications associated with the transition to cloud data management systems as well as the threat of ‘shadow IT’. The results also show that responsibility for data security remains something a grey area within public sector bodies.”

Bowes added: “Above all, the survey demonstrates the need for organisations to invest in training and education in order to increase awareness of data security challenges among all staff and stakeholders. Often, by the time a breach takes place it’s already too late, so preparation is everything.”

Awareness is “no substitute” for preparation

A wide range of organisations (745 in total) were surveyed for this research including central and local Government, healthcare, education and ‘Blue Light’ Emergency Services, with respondents drawn from senior levels across C-Suite positions, directors, senior and line managers and lead officers.

Stephen Bowes

Stephen Bowes

“Our research shows first of all that awareness of cyber security is definitely growing right across the spectrum of the UK’s public sector,” continued Bowes. “However, different organisations are at different stages of their digital journey and, as the pace of IT innovation and digital transformation continues to quicken, there are inconsistencies in terms of how prepared organisations are in the event of a cyber attack or a data loss incident.”

Bowes concluded: “When it comes to data security, awareness is no substitute for preparation. Data is as important to public services as personnel and physical infrastructures and everyone has a responsibility to protect it.  Embedding Best Practice and proper training when it comes to storing sensitive data is imperative to the important work the public sector transacts in protecting citizens’ security and privacy.”

*The BSI’s Cyber Security and Information Resilience Centre of Excellence provides a range of solutions to help organisations address their information challenges covering cyber security, information management and privacy, security awareness and compliance and testing. For more information visit bsigroup.com/cyber-uk

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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