IT officers are warning that a major data security breach remains a high possibility in local government despite spending on computer systems being forecast to rise by nine percent.
According to the Society of Information Technology Management’s (SOCITM) annual IT trends survey, efficiency and security emerge as top issues on IT chiefs’ agendas.
The report, based on a questionnaire sent to heads of ICT in the UK’s 468 councils, revealed more than 180 separate security concerns, ranging from careless use of passwords to the destruction of data centres.
Report editor John Serle warns local government to guard against a major security breach similar to that which rocked HM Revenue & Customs last year when personal and financial details of millions receiving child benefit were lost.
The worry is exacerbated by the increasing ability of disgruntled council staff to use storage devices, like iPods, to download sensitive corporate and social services information through USB ports.
Mr Serle, a former head of IT at Lincolnshire CC, said: “A top concern is malicious staff holding councils to ransom.”
He added: “If I was the CEO at the authority I would want to know which [of the 180 security concerns] posed a risk.”
The report reveals that information security costs have increased “dramatically”. The largest chunk of the£3bn local government IT spend 43% went on staff costs, although this represents a five percent decrease on the previous year.
The next greatest areas of spending are on software, which consumes 14% of budgets, and hardware.
Following last year’s comprehensive spending review and the toughest financial settlement in years, IT chiefs have admitted their area is one where significant efficiency improvements need to be made.
Janet de Rochefort, quality manager for Kent CC’s information services group, said: “Being able to share information would increase efficiency, but there are all sorts of potential problems to overcome including incompatible systems and different levels of security.”