One-quarter of UK police websites lack a secure connection

And they want to do more online?

Metropolitan police image via Shutterstock

An alarming proportion of cops’ websites lack any form of automatic secure connection, meaning sensitive data is potentially communicated in plain unencrypted text – according to research.

Findings from non-profit body the Centre for Public Safety revealed that almost one-quarter of police sites lack any automatic secure connection in a review of 71 websites.

Of these missing automatic SSL, more than 70 per cent (12 agencies) invited users to submit personal data – and in some cases information specifically relating to criminal activity – via these unsecured connections exposing the public to unnecessary risk.

Only 27 per cent demonstrated the highest "world-class" standard of secure connection, said the report.

The body said the finding were particularly concerning given police and crime commissioners and are banking on savings from digital transformation - which will see more services go online.

The report also found little connection between total spend on technology and performance. For example, the Metropolitan Police which spent in excess of £110m on just one IT supplier in 2014/15 but was only awarded a mid-ranking cyber security grade C.

Such a score means its server may be vulnerable to the POODLE attack and that it likely uses older protocols.

In contrast Dorset, Durham and Warwickshire, which have more limited IT budgets, were awarded the top A grade.

Rory Geoghegan, founder of the Centre for Public Safety, said forces were at risk of losing public trust and jeopardising public safety.

He said: “It’s 2016. The internet is not new, the cyber security threat is not new, and yet some police forces and their IT providers seem to think it is acceptable to pay large sums of taxpayer money for insecure technology.”

Some forces’ security rankings even deteriorated after their sites received a refresh. When first tested in July 2016, Cheshire Constabulary scored a "C" grade.

By September 2016, following the launch of a new “upgraded” website, the connection was less secure achieving only an "F" grade, meaning it was vulnerable to the POODLE attack and had increased vulnerability to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks.

The report recommends forces and organisations should take remedial action to bring their online services to the highest security standards.

"This action can be easily achieved for the majority of services, involving simple configuration changes to the server. The changes required are achievable by anyone with basic server administration skills,” said the report.

Rising cyber security threats will mean the police service can expect to be a more appealing target, it warned. ®


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