Hertfordshire County Council fears cyber attack over banned words email list
PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 February 2014
Fears of a cyber attack by hackers, or hostile foreign powers, has led a council to refuse to release a list of words banned from its emails.
A similar dossier was provided by Birmingham City Council to another newspaper, but County Hall chiefs vetoed publication of its own list.
The gagging order was made as Herts County Council claimed the disclosure of all of the words as a list “would allow anyone to easily make malicious use of them to flood the County Council’s email system under a ‘denial of service’ attack”.
The council added: “Incidences of such attacks on public bodies have been widely carried out, and reported in the press.
“Public bodies are an accepted target of such attacks.”
The WHT had requested a list of words which are restricted or banned from Hertfordshire County Council’s (HCC) email systems under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Birmingham City Council case revealed the word “Commie”, a shortened form of Communist levelled at suspected ‘red’ sympathisers during the Cold War, was restricted, as well as other words, including some human body parts.
But aside from conceding that some of the words were “in common usage” no such transparency was offered by HCC.
It fell to the county council’s chief legal officer, Kathryn Pettitt, who also holds the position of monitoring officer, to slam the door on the list being released.
Ms Pettitt declared revelation “would prejudice the effective conduct of County Council business”.
Other authorities were also unable to provide a list.
Hertsmere Borough Council claimed it did not have a list and the authority’s “spam filtering system can detect what could be deemed inappropriate email conversations”.
And Welwyn Hatfield Council said: “The service does not use any dictionary of banned words.”
A spokesman added: “We cannot provide a list of words as there are no words that are restricted or banned.”
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