When the private information retained by an organisation or government office is disclosed to the public or accessed without authorisation, the result is a data breach. The protection of personal information is regulated in the UK by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and if this regulator finds inadequate security measures were taken to safeguard data, it has the power to exact punishment – commonly in the form of weighty fines.

UK councils are responsible for not only social care but also for providing aspects of housing, transport and education. These local authorities are also charged with an extensive selection of neighbourhood services, from libraries to waste collection. This means that they are required to handle and store vast amounts of private information on data subjects, and for this reason, it is crucial that their information security measures are impenetrable.

Despite this requirement, statistics show that last year, local councils across the country reported 700 separate data breaches to the ICO. London-based cybersecurity investigators found that approximately two council data breaches were reported per day in 2020 and that one council had reported 29 breaches spread out across the year. Around 10 of these local authorities faced disruptions to their services on account of the incidents.

With thousands of UK citizens relying daily on critical services supplied by their local councils, and many more depending on the authorities to protect their personal data records, we’ll take a closer look in the following sections at what more local governments can do to avoid these damaging data breaches.

Correct information governance

How data is stored, handled and shared must be governed by security protocols that dictate who is able to access it. Systems adopted for data use and retention must be assessed to ensure they are effective. All information must be classified correctly and be stored securely, with permissions suited to its sensitivity level. This way, information that isn’t sensitive can be accessed easily, keeping daily operations and workflow running smoothly, while ensuring confidential data is never exposed or accessed by unauthorised entities.

Regulators demand that when requested, data can be recalled, tracked or destroyed if necessary, so it is crucial that councils have complete control over the data they process and store. Putting a well-considered and secure infrastructure in place for data is paramount to improving cybersecurity.

Adopting enhanced technology

From dedicated firewalls and spam filters to antivirus and antimalware, there are a wide range of technologies available to protect councils from the multiple threats targeting their systems, services and data stores. However, a strict regimen of installing updates and security patches is crucial to their effectiveness.

System and data backup is also critical, so that if the worst should come to pass and data is destroyed by accident or during an attack, no information is ever lost, and operations can be smoothly and swiftly restored. This is essential to avoid a data breach, as information belonging to data subjects that is destroyed is also considered a breach.

Cybersecurity experts agree that data encryption software is the most powerful protective solution available to safeguard confidential data. It effectively scrambles the data records it is applied to, making them indecipherable to anyone who has not been granted express permission to interact with them. Whether information is being stored on the cloud or transmitted by email, council members can ensure the data they are handling is safe from prying eyes.

This means that, in the event a council network is hacked and a threat operator gains access to servers or email accounts that contain personally identifiable information (PII), the data cannot be read, stolen or tampered with, avoiding a data breach.

Cybersecurity training for staff members

Figures show that around only 50 per cent of local council staff received training in cybersecurity last year, and that 45 per cent of councils employed no personnel with recognised cybersecurity certification.

While enlisting onsite qualified cybersecurity experts might not be suitable for every council budget, continuing training against threats and risk is crucial. All council staff must be security aware, understand how to recognise an attack and know the proper protocols both to protect data and report an incident.

All council members, from admins to senior executives, must be educated so that they use security measures like permission systems and verification processes correctly, as users are still the greatest vulnerability to any secure system.

Council members should never be allowed to select their own passwords, negating any chance that weak and easy-to-crack credentials are ever employed.

A comprehensive data security solution

At Galaxkey, we have designed our most secure system, with current threat levels to data security firmly in focus. Its innovative options are engineered to offer companies and local councils alike an answer to the multiple challenges they face safeguarding their people, processes, systems and data from accidental incidents and man-made attacks that can result in a breach.

Our system is powerful but easy to use, making staff training and effective operation a far simpler prospect. With drag-and-drop action, personnel can ensure all email correspondence, attachments and shared documents remain completely confidential, protected by robust encryption.

To sidestep misuse of passwords, none are ever stored on our platform. Additional protection against user error is provided by the ability to recall emails containing sensitive information sent mistakenly to the wrong address.

Offering premium support in terms of accountability, all data secured can be verified and tracked, offering regulators full transparency of protection levels adopted, so compliance can never be called into question. Designed to keep unauthorised entities out of private data, our system has no backdoors that can be exploited by threat operators.

Whether you handle information security for a local authority, an educational institution or an established enterprise, if you’re ready to make our secure system part of your protective protocols, contact our expert team today. We can provide you with an online demonstration, or, if you would like to explore our solution yourself, you can experience a free, 14-day trial.