Spies and diplomats in a Huddle

Secret data

Government staff will soon be able to share "restricted" documents in the cloud, following a deal between the services arm of the Foreign and Commonwealth office, and the software as a service provider Huddle.

FCO Services will run Huddle's software on its internal cloud, known as the Government Secure Application Environment (GSAE). This will allow civil servants, diplomats and other Government staff to share documents up to the secrecy level IL3, or Restricted.

Other Government departments, including the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs, and the Cabinet Office, already use a public version of Huddle for "external collaboration," sharing documents up to IL2. This service is already being used by businesses, including Kia Motors, P&G and Disney.

Internally, the GSAE is being developed so it can also host IL4, or Confidential, documents. Huddle will support IL4 next year, said Alastair Mitchell, the company's CEO.

"The GSAE Platform has been created specifically to meet the needs of the public sector, which needs to access and utilise SaaS applications at IL3 and IL4," said Chris Moxey, CEO, FCO Services.

"As a trusted partner to Government with a considerable amount of experience in secure ICT, we are confident that we can support other government organisations move securely into the cloud."

Government departments are increasingly looking at cloud computing to reduce costs, as well as to streamline processes, even in areas where security has been a barrier. The Government's 2010 spending review set departments a 25 per cent target for efficiency.

"Being cloud-based, Huddle IL3 can reduce the management overheads of technology infrastructure, increase flexibility and improve productivity," said Mitchell.

However, by no means all industry experts are convinced that cloud services will bring all the hoped-for savings.

"If it's in a private cloud inside the [Government] network, there are additional expenses," cautioned Graeme Stewart, public sector business development director at Sophos, the security vendor.

"If you work inside the GSi, you will have the right connection already, but every single user will need IL3 disk encryption, and to get the best value from Huddle IL3 this needs mass adoption. Therefore, you need mass adoption of encryption, which is very expensive and time consuming."

Securing data, meanwhile, remains a challenge for public sector organisations.