Civil servants to get single WiFi service under GDS plans

Written by Rebecca Hill on 15 December 2016 in News
News

New service will allow users that have logged in once to automatically join the WiFi in any government building that runs the service

A secure cross-Whitehall WiFi service will be available in government buildings in early 2017 as part of private beta testing, the Government Digital Service has announced.

The GovWifi service, which was trialled in a small number of buildings during the summer and is run by GDS, aims to provide public sector bodies with a single WiFi service to replace separate user and guest WiFi networks.

The authentication service runs in the cloud and makes all participating WiFi networks appear as one, allowing users that have logged in once to automatically join the WiFi in any building that runs the service, even if the user hasn’t been there before.


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It also allows users to access their own organisation’s resources in a similar way as they would work from home by using a VPN, while protecting them with unique, randomly generated credentials and encryption keys. There is also horizontal protection so malware cannot be spread between different users’ devices.

Originally called user.wifi, the service was renamed GovWifi after user testing revealed that people were less likely to trust it, didn’t think it sounded like it was run by government and thought it might be a URL instead.

GDS tested five names – UKWifi, GovSecure, GetOnline, HMGovernment and GovWifi – with civil servants, contractors and department visitors in three departments before settling on GovWifi.

“Participants associated it with being secure, official and being for them to use in a government building, irrespective of whether they are a civil servant, a contractor, or a visitor,” GDS customer insight manager Nick Breeze and service designer Sanjay Poyzer said in a blogpost.

They added that using the WiFi sign and a shield had instilled confidence in users, and the resulting logo uses both of these in addition to the GovWifi name.

GDS is now rolling out GovWifi across government departments in private beta, which means that only those organisations that are taking part will be able to use it.

At the moment this is central government, but Breeze and Poyzer have indicated there are plans to expand the service, saying that more research is planned W”to make sure GovWifi meets the needs of the wider public sector, such as local government, health and social care”.

GDS added that organisations that want to join the test should email the GovWifi support team, but that they will have to meet the requirements for shared workplace wireless networks.

This includes that there is a WiFi infrastructure that can point to one or more servers using the open standard RADIUS protocol – which provides centralised authentication, authorisation and accounting on a network – and an internet firewall that allows RADIUS to connect to the GovWifi authentication servers.

Meanwhile, individual users have to agree to a set of terms and conditions, including that GDS can store connection details such as email address, phone number, authentication attempts and last login dates on a server based in Europe and can share this with host organisations you access the service from.​

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Rebecca Hill
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Rebecca Hill is the online editor of PublicTechnology, where a version of this story first appeared

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