Government decides internet is ‘ok’ as it begins shift from PSN

18 June 2018

Which way now for public sector networks? Some experts believe the PSN was built for a "different age".

Which way now for public sector networks? Some experts believe the PSN was built for a "different age".

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is planning to move away from the PSN (public services network), and will look at ways of using the internet instead.

Early last year, the GDS’ Technology Leaders Network had decided that government was now on a journey away from the PSN.

In a blog posted in mid-May 2018, John Strudwick, the GDS’ deputy director of technology, architecture and standards, wrote:

"As we continue to move away from the PSN, we need to think about the new standards we use to share services and exchange data so there is trust in the interaction and integrity in the data.

“These new standards could include adopting technical controls like using standards-based approaches to email security and encrypting web transactions using Transport Layer Security. They could also include leveraging commodity edge devices and/or using VPNs.”

Strudwick continued by saying some of these approaches are already being adopted, giving secure email as an example of a popular PSN alternative with almost 200 public sector bodies.

The GDS now plans to carry out  research into the types of standards and guidance it will need as it shifts away from the PSN to the internet.

Amongst other things, this “discovery project” will include identifying user needs and how to create a secure structure for different parts of central and local government to communicate.

Strudwick said the discovery will comply with the GDS’ 'Cloud First’ policy, Network Principles and previous acknowledgement that the internet is ‘ok’.

Part of the project will also look into how suppliers can be encouraged to work with the GDS to develop common standards for the new network so that they can all participate equally and fairly in the new marketplace.

“We’re really keen to create a healthy supplier market around the technology we use to establish high-quality connections, just as we did with PSN,” said Strudwick. “We’ll be setting the standards but will look to suppliers for guidance. For example, if it’s commodity edge devices that we’re using, we’d ask suppliers in this space for advice on implementation and configuration.”

Innopsis, the industry association for companies supplying network services to the public sector, said it has been asking the GDS to review PSN for some time.

It pointed out that the PSN operating manual was written seven years ago and both technology and the environment in the public sector has now changed.

Des Ward, the association’s information governance director, said: “PSN was built for a different age and that gated community is no longer viable. It makes complete sense to leave a closed community behind in favour of a more open one, but information governance should be at its heart.”

According to Ward, the key issue is data protection.

“It’s not about security but requirements for protection, accuracy and access in relation to information. There are multiple assurance frameworks for cyber but no common framework for governance. In order to achieve more autonomy and accountability, the public sector needs to address this deficit between compliance and governance.”