Security, Privacy and Trust: Unlocking the Power of IdAM for Public Sector Success
Efthymios Kartsonakis Principal Consultant
Navigating IdAM implementation challenges
Ensuring the security and privacy of sensitive government data and confidential citizen information is paramount in the public sector to prevent it from being misused and falling into the wrong hands. This is achievable with Identity and Access Management (IdAM), a crucial aspect of cybersecurity that allows only authorised individuals to access sensitive information and resources.
However, a recent Cabinet Office report highlights the unique IdAM challenges the public sector faces when implementing a digital transformation strategy. Government data contains highly sensitive information about citizens, and unauthorised access has serious consequences, including geopolitical risks, financial loss, and reputational damage and can dramatically affect people’s lives. This ageing data, subject to regulations and compliance standards, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is also dispersed as numerous departments have their own IT systems, databases, and authority over it.
Escalating cybersecurity threats
As government operations increasingly shift to the digital landscape, criminal activities follow suit. It’s not surprising that more than 11 million cyber-attacks hit Britain’s local councils every year. In addition to that, government departments are the main target of cybercriminals and reported a growth in the volume of cybersecurity incidents, according to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Cybersecurity must remain a top priority to ensure the diverse audience utilising government services, from tech-savvy individuals to digitally vulnerable members of society with accessibility requirements, can securely access government services.
Given IdAM’s potential to prevent identity-based attacks, safeguard privacy, facilitate access to services, and reduce the friction in the identity verification process, it is no wonder that the government places significant emphasis on enabling secure digital identities. This is evident in government initiatives such as the UK Digital Strategy and the updated digital identity trust framework.
Synergy between IdAM and cloud migration
A successful IdAM implementation should go hand in hand with a well-executed cloud migration strategy, ultimately paving the way for seamless and efficient digital services. Government agencies can effectively protect sensitive data and mitigate potential risks by enforcing robust security policies on the cloud provider’s resources. Furthermore, the opportunity to build new infrastructure and processes on modern architectures that are flexible, scalable, and highly available could mean significant development and operational benefits, while allowing government organisations to sidestep costly incomplete digital transformations.
Benefits of IdAM in the public sector
A strong government IdAM platform positions the citizens at the centre of attention. It enables new value propositions, including Single Sign On (SSO) within a government department, federation across government services, and secure access to national data and data sharing across public organisations.
From a security standpoint, IdAM protects sensitive data with robust authentication and authorisation mechanisms, including multi-factor authentication (MFA) closely monitored to identify cyber-attacks and indicators of compromise through a comprehensive Security Operations Centre (SOC).
Streamlined access to government services
The HMCTS Reform is an example of a digital identity transformation programme that aims to change how citizens, legal professionals and civil servants interact. Using secure citizen and professional identity verification processes, divorce applications, money claims, court prosecutions, and more are now digitally accessible to millions of citizens, increasing efficiency, halving the processing time, and significantly reducing the cost of the procedures and operations. These savings can be re-invested into future digital priorities.
But this proposition can go beyond a single government department, as people have high expectations from the digital experience they receive nowadays. Imagine a digital landscape where citizens can use their credentials to verify their identity and securely access all government services. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:
“Whether someone wants to prove who they are when starting a job, moving house or shopping online, they ought to have the tools to do so quickly and securely.
“We are developing a new digital identity framework so people can confidently verify themselves using modern technology and organisations have the clarity they need to provide these services.
“This will make life easier and safer for people right across the country and lay the building blocks of our future digital economy.”
This paradigm is well-established in several European countries, and an example of such an initiative in the UK is the One Login programme. This seamless and secure experience can be achieved by investing in the development and implementation of a robust, compliant and federated IdAM platform.
By bringing experts from the public and private sectors together and using open industry standards and APIs, the central government will allow citizens to access the platform’s benefits incrementally and in a timely fashion. The benefits of such an approach can be measured by tracking metrics such as the number of users who have adopted the new system, their level of satisfaction and the reduction in security incidents within the government departments.
Efficient data sharing and collaboration
The notion of a public service is broader than that of the public sector. Citizen data these days also reside in the private sector infrastructure. A synergy between the public and private sectors can offer new innovative products based on leveraging and aggregating data mastered in different government and private organisations.
The Pensions Dashboards Programme is another prime example of a digital ecosystem where government agencies, insurance and dashboard providers, financial advisors and citizens participate and securely interact, leveraging the capabilities of an IdAM platform. People in the UK can accumulate more than 11 pension pots during an average career, leading to billions of pounds in unclaimed funds, which makes it hard for employees to plan their retirement. This platform simplifies the public’s relationship with their retirement savings, reconnecting them with lost pension pots and allowing them to view their pension details securely in one secure place. It enables citizens to log in, find all their savings pots and delegate access to financial advisors, thereby supporting better planning for retirement and enhancing financial wellbeing.
IdAM is a critical component of UK cybersecurity and is essential to protecting sensitive government data and citizen information. Implementing an IdAM strategy in the public sector can be challenging due to complex IT systems, regulatory requirements, and limited resources. However the benefits go far beyond enhanced security. A strong government IdAM platform can offer new value propositions, including SSO and data sharing across public organisations, while ensuring all users are authenticated and authorised. IdAM is an effective way of regulating who can access data and plays an integral part in keeping it safe.
Government organisations have the opportunity to leverage IdAM to gain a single view of their citizens, make services more accessible to the public, and establish it as the cornerstone of any digital or cloud transformation initiative. Furthermore, it can contribute to human capital development by streamlining access control processes, reducing costs, and improving everyone’s digital experience, especially for those that are digitally vulnerable.