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Ben Cheetham · local gov digital

Cyber and digital - two sides of the same coin

The Local Digital Declaration has been great at setting a common vision for the future of local public services and something for the #LocalDigital community to coalesce around. Whilst cyber is featured in the Declaration it’s not something the MHCLG Local Digital team actively focussed on in the beginning.

Last summer I started to look more into the world of cyber to see if there were any opportunities to join up with the work that William Barker and team had been doing to raise cyber resilience across all of the local public sector.

I found that cyber and digital have lots of similarities. They both could do with more senior level buy-in and understanding amongst staff and both have their own language that can make it hard to engage with. But more importantly, both have a bunch of committed council staff and supporters that are often furthering the cause by making time during their working day or even in their own time.

LocalGov Digital (not to be confused with the MHCLG team) has it’s steering group and regional peer groups for digital practitioners, whilst in the cyber community there is C-TAG (Cyber Technical Advisory Group) and regional WARPs - Warning, Advice and Reporting Points.

Being cyber aware is becoming more mainstream

Over the past few years we’ve seen some major incidents happen at councils with the cyber attacks at Copeland, Redcar & Cleveland and others.

The recent rapid shift for many of us to exclusively work and socialise using computers has really brought the need to understand the security and resilience of the systems we’re using to the fore. As Onyeka from LOTI (London Office of Technology and Innovation) has described, when it goes wrong it can have a lasting human impact.

Cyber isn’t just a problem for IT to deal with. Everyone has a part to play, all day, every day. It may only take one person clicking on a link in an email or innocently plugging a USB drive into a laptop for some malware to get onto a system.

It’s not just about viruses and hackers

Our response to coronavirus has seen us need to share and use data in different ways, crossing department and organisation boundaries, as well as at a pace we’re often not used to.

Sharing data between teams let alone organisations can be a challenge. We often fall back to text files and spreadsheets being emailed, but this pattern of activity can be risky and often isn’t suitable at all for our most sensitive data.

This is where the worlds of cyber and digital really begin to converge. Often a big reason for needing to share data in these insecure and cumbersome ways is because it has been dragged out of poorly designed, “legacy” systems that are not fit for the internet era.

Two sides of the same coin

For me, the digital and cyber worlds share many challenges. Developing the organisational culture and capabilities together with redesigning services together will allow us to get much closer to the vision of the Local Digital Declaration.

Our recent exploration work has shown that there are lots of organisations providing support but it’s hard to navigate and is not joined up enough.

My own reflection is there is more work to be done in cyber to bring the sector together and move to a space where everyone wants the problem solved. I have been keen for the Local Digital cyber discovery team to involve as many as possible in our discovery phase and our focus is on identifying the gaps together with who and how they might be filled.

If you’d like to hear more, you can request to join the end of discovery show and tell on the Local Digital site.