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Out-of-date IT forces public sector to buy parts on eBay

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SOME of the computer systems being used by Jersey’s public sector are so old and out of date that replacement parts are having to be bought on eBay, high-ranking government officers have revealed.

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Some of the Island’s top civil servants have told the JEP that IT software and hardware being used here is woefully out of date, needing huge investment to be updated.

Chief Minister John Le Fondré revealed in the States this week that the government has been targeted by millions of malicious emails and more than 4,000 online attacks from hackers.

His comments came in response to recent criticism of the government’s plans to spend big on IT, in particular a section of the Government Plan which explained £20 million of expenditure over four years with just seven words: ‘replacement costs of various IT infrastructure assets’.

Jonathan Williams, the government’s director of business change, said that some of the systems being used were ‘very, very inefficient’ and in some cases second-hand hardware had to be bought online to carry out maintenance.

‘Government accounting is on a system that was last upgraded in 2005. So if you think about 2005, the iPhone didn’t exist. If you wanted to watch a movie at home, you went down to a store and you got a video,’ he said.

‘So, you can imagine what the software looks like to use from then. It’s very, very inefficient to use and very challenging. It has no or very little automation within it at all.

‘It’s running on a server platform that goes out of support next year and it’s running on hardware that is so old that we can’t buy new replacement parts for it. We have to go to the eBay market to get parts for it.’

John Quinn, the government’s chief operating officer, said that work carried out to develop the e-gov system in recent years had not addressed many of the underlying issues with the government’s IT infrastructure.

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He described e-gov, a multi-function online portal system which received £10 million of funding, as a ‘expensive roof with rocky foundations’.

‘There is considerable progress in the e-gov programme, which is the top layer, but unfortunately there has been no investment in the bits below it,’ he said.

‘The top layer was quite challenging to create, partly because what you are trying to do is integrate very old technology.

‘You have got very old systems and the simple way of integrating them through APIs [application program interfaces] doesn’t exist because a lot of these old systems just don’t have them

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‘We’ve got an expensive roof, sitting on a very rocky foundation. That’s how I would describe it.’

Earlier this week during the Government Plan debate, Senator Le Fondré said that protection against cyber-attack was one of the key reasons why so much money needed to be spent on IT systems.

‘If one goes back to the WannaCry attack on the NHS, which I think was two years ago, I think that something like 88,000 [hospital] operations were cancelled as a result,’ he said.

‘If you don’t invest in those systems that people don’t see, then you get that sort of attack. There are real consequences for people on-Island.

‘So, when they say we are spending too much, that is because over decades we have always cut things back where we shouldn’t have done.

‘In terms of cyber the stats have been given recently that we have had 4,400 attacks that have been stopped at the perimeter, we have had three million potential threat emails stopped and 800 malware incidences have been contained at our endpoint.’

FACTBOX:

The Baltimore cyber-attack: Could this happen to Jersey?

In May 2019 the government of the city of Baltimore in the USA fell prey to the massive ‘RobbinHood’ ransomware attack, which took all of its servers offline.

Ransomware, such as the WannaCry virus which crippled NHS systems in 2017, forcing hospital closures, works by encrypting files, with the hackers demanding money to regain access through encryption keys.

Baltimore was criticised for leaving itself vulnerable to its cyber-attack due to its decentralised and dated IT systems. It has been estimated that the RobbinHood attack cost the city $18 million.

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
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