Councils link up on secure information sharing

Ten local council authorities have joined up to protect their shared information using electronic access cards.

The Eduserv project uses Microsoft Windows CardSpace information cards to let the Learning Group - a collaboration between ten local authorities - authenticate users on their online information systems in order to safely share internal documents.

The Shared Learning Group lets the authorities trade information about projects, procurement and IT solution issues. They share ideas, tips and use their combined buying power for more leverage.

Eduserv will provide the members with the cards and manage the authentication system.

"There's a general concern across government around providing better security for information services," said Geoff Connell, chief information officer of the London Borough of Newham and chairman of the Shared Learning Group. "To some extent, this is a response to that."

To use the system, council employees would sign on to their desktop, go to the online Shared Learning Group portal, and then select and present their electronic card for authentication. The e-card is checked against the necessary systems - without any additional input from the user - and approval is given for access.

"The information card holds credential in a secure way that only the end user can release," said Ed Zedlewski, chief information officer at Eduserv.

He added: "At the heart of it, under the hood... there's a quite secure exchange of data with certificates to prove everything."

If the system works for the Shared Learning Group, it could be rolled out to the rest of the councils' information, and other partners like health trusts, said Connell. "It's really a proof of concept," he explained, adding he would like to roll it out further "so we can publish information we hold as a council."