Bonum Certa Men Certa

Bristol Council Claims it Chose Microsoft for 'Security'

Bristol coat of arms



Summary: The laughing stock of the security world is said to have been favoured because it bought some expensive certifications

A FEW months ago we wrote about a bizarre dodge from Free software [1, 2], which happened after everything seemed finalised. No proper explanation was given and those involved were questioned about the sudden change of heart (with the suspicion that something nefarious had happened). Only months later, under persistent pressure from the public and from investigative journalists, we finally see this apparent excuse, which goes like this: "It has been considering a number of open source email solutions, but Bristol City Council confirmed to eWEEK Europe UK that none of them have the necessary government security accreditation to enable the council to use them."



Is this the same reasoning which they gave to those companies? Is this an afterthought? An excuse? Being blessed by some expensive process (that carries no liability either) does not actually make the software more secure. It is not as though when Microsoft software gets cracked the certificate plays any role and somehow gives another target to point the finger at. This smells like dishonesty and since the White Houses uses Drupal and GNU/Linux, this claim holds no water, either.

There are many new examples of insecure proprietary software, one of which came last week from Novell on Windows. To quote:

"Unfortunately, a problem has been discovered with this file, which can potentially result in a system crash in certain circumstances.

The problem has been fixed, and the Client software has been re-released as Novell Client 2 SP1 for Windows (IR9a), available at: http://download.novell.com/Download?buildid=rSUN_TTVSf0~

Please remove the (IR9) build, and use the (IR9a) version instead. We regret the inconvenience.

Thank you."


How would certification have resolved such an issue? It wouldn't have. In practice, Microsoft software and proprietary software are not secure, they are just more secretive and expensive.

The tale of Bristol has been followed quite closely by Mark Ballard, who writes about excuses such as the above (excluding all Free software in one fell swoop, pretending that Microsoft is the only secure option) in the following text:

Bristol City Council's open source push has suffered another series of set-backs that point a finger of blame at CESG, the cyber security arm of government intelligence unit GCHQ.

Leaders at the local authority claim that the need for CESG security certification of e-mail systems effectively means the council has no choice but to buy Microsoft.

Senior Cabinet Office IT leaders have been asked to help as Bristol's faltering open source strategy, still showing little progress after a year, highlighted problems besetting the coalition government's own open source policy.


What a sham. As many other governments use Free software quite happily, this concern has little or no validity. It is a good excuse though -- like one an employer uses to reject a candidate for reasons that are not technical/skills-related but qualifications-related.

In other news of interest, "U.K. Liberal Democrats urge open source," but given the story of Bristol it seems like lip service. From the article:

The British government should ensure it owns all software code it pays for and should share that code for free within the public sector, says a policy paper adopted Sept. 20 by the Liberal Democrats party, the minority partner of the two-party ruling coalition forming the United Kingdom's government.

In addition, the paper urges the British government to embrace collaborative software development along the lines of models on display at GitHub, an open source software project hosting website.


Someone should tell the Lib Dems that Bristol rejects British firms that offer Free software in favour of proprietary software from a foreign company with criminal history -- software that the British public overpays for and has no control over.

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