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ContactPoint goes live despite security fears

Thinking of the children - but is that all?

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During trials due to begin next week, 800 frontline workers in 17 local authorities' areas (largely in North West England) will be trained in using the system. Officials with two childrens' charities - Barnardo's and KIDS - will also be involved in phase two of the roll-out of the system.

Earlier trials of the system have already uncovered problems. For example, adopted children included on the systems were filed by both their original and adopted surnames, creating a greater risk that these potentially troubled kids might be tracked down, the Daily Telegraph reports/a>.

Security researchers have expressed doubts about ministerial assurances on the security of the proposed ContactPoint child protection database.

Such comforting statements are at best incomplete, according to three experts. Concerns about the security of the database expressed by malware expert Chris Boyd of IM security firm FaceTime and Stuart Okin, UK managing director of security consulting Comsec, follow those first raised by confidential Reg sources in the IT testing community last month. Peter Houppermans, architect of the high-profile GSI project, is similarly unconvinced.

Boyd's concerns focus on the possibility that malware-infected laptops might allow access into the system, which will become an attractive target for hackers. Okin highlights issues over the huge number of professionals who will be authorised to access the system.

Answering questions in the House of Commons last month, Beverley Hughes, minister of state at the Department of Children, Schools and Families, brushed away concerns that the system might be vulnerable to unauthorised access or leaks. As well as saying the systems had been subjected to penetration tests, Hughes also responded to questions about remote access to the system.

Practitioners will be able to access ContactPoint remotely (i.e. from locations other than local authority, health service or national partner organisations premises) only via secure remote access solutions authorised and provided by those organisations and compliant with the ContactPoint security policy. Technical security measures prevent access from unsecured wireless broadband or public locations such as internet cafes and wireless "hotspots".

The minister told the House that even authorised users would be unable to download information obtained from the database, either onto a computer or removable media.

Chris Boyd of FaceTime is sceptical on this.

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