Solace Blog

Cybersecurity fight needs everyone to volunteer

Guest blog by Martin Ferguson, Director of Policy and Research at Socitm

From employees to board members, public sector organisations need to be united in tackling IT-based attacks.

The public sector’s vulnerability to cybersecurity threats has been placed in the spotlight by the recent Wannacry ransomware attack on the NHS. Local authorities are not immune, as was demonstrated by the 2016 ransomware attack on Lincolnshire County Council. This caused the council to close down some systems for several days, although it did not pay the ransom and only a small number of files were affected. 


Educating employees on sound cybersecurity behaviours is now a necessity. Organisations need to explain to staff why they must not respond to ransomware, click on attachments or links in unexpected emails or give out personal information or passwords without being sure who is asking. Socitm is currently investigating suitable training materials that are cost-effective to use with public sector employees across local public services.

Cybersecurity is now a board issue too. Effective cybersecurity preparations involve risk assessment and mitigation for specific processes – in short, planning at managerial and board levels. Issues and mistakes need to be understood and discussed by organisations’ boards, both with a view to avoiding errors and learning from them when they do occur. Socitm recommends that including cybersecurity in organisation’s corporate or strategic risk registers can help achieve this.

Organisations, including local authorities, need to share their experiences to help others learn from their successes and mistakes. Socitm has supported the development of regional Warps – warning, advice and reporting points – which allow local public service and voluntary organisations to co-operate, share intelligence and expertise, as well as contributing to and taking advantage of the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership.

But local organisations need national support to take this further. Socitm is calling for resources to help establish regional cybersecurity capabilities, drawing upon skills, knowledge and experience currently isolated in different parts of government, including local, central and the NHS. These regional capabilities could help place-based organisations, including local authorities, to build their cybersecurity maturity and provide incident response teams if and when an attack occurs. This would require working collaboratively, especially across health and social care, along with investment and coordination to make it happen.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), provides strategic advice and guidance. Socitm and Solace are active members of the LG Cybersecurity Stakeholder Group that includes wide representation from across the local public sector and central government. The Stakeholder Group is working closely with NCSC in plans to promote and engage local government in cybersecurity preparedness and response.

As well as engaging with NCSC, Socitm continues to develop and provide advice to its members and others on cybersecurity. Socitm’s Insight Cyber Guide, regularly updated in a partnership with Intel Security, provides high-level cybersecurity content to all its members, with more detail for corporate members and subscribers to Socitm’s Insight service. The Guide includes specific guidance for both directors and managers on improving cybersecurity, but also on the quality of technology services and their resilience, and complements GCHQ’s 10 Steps to Cyber Security and Cyber Essentials.  

Socitm also covers cybersecurity in its programme of events, including its national conferences and regional meetings, and its topical briefings, as well as contributing to the 2016 Local Government Cyber Security Summits and to other external events.

Socitm, in partnership with Solace, LGA and others, is championing cybersecurity – without effective action to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats, local government will not be able to take full potential of IT and digital transformation.