As part of the precautionary measures being taken for handling the COVID-19 virus, staff can work at home more regularly to reduce risks. The purpose of this page is to provide important IT advice including some brief refresher points on how to maintain good security practises while working at home.

General advice for remote working

Many staff will be working from different locations over the foreseeable while.

It is not always necessary for staff to be connected and on line for the duration of the working day. Staff should consider using instant messaging, email, mobile telephones and working off line where possible.

There has already been an significant increase in NICS Video Conferencing over the network. Video Conferencing uses considerable network bandwidth and therefore staff are encouraged to use sparingly and for urgent business needs. We are extending our NICS bandwidth which will accommodate more online activity and access – this is likely to take a few weeks to complete and have fully configured so please bear with us over the coming weeks.

Current infrastructure and remote access

IT Assist manage most of the desktop and laptop infrastructure across the NICS. We are currently working through a large number of new requests for additional laptops. Provision of laptops will need to prioritised by each Department and in some cases staff are already reallocating and redeploying current laptops across their business areas to focus on priority areas and front line service provision.

We aim to fulfil many request for new laptops over the next 7 to10 days – however laptops are in short supply and the supply chain is seeing excessive demands. In some instances IT Assist will be providing existing Desktop computers with the capability to be used to work from home over Secure Remote Access (SRA).

This will be by exception and to meet business critical needs. Security will not be impacted and all existing controls will continue to apply regardless of whether staff are using a Laptop or a Desktop. Staff cannot use their own personal IT to access secure NICS systems.

Provision of SRA will need to prioritised by each Department. As this is relatively new for some staff, IT Assist are developing guidance on good practice when using SRA, including disconnecting when not accessing files online as increased use of SRA affects Internet Bandwidth.

In order to maximise bandwidth availability and free up as much as possible for critical business functions the following categories of website will be inaccessible during the ongoing emergency.

  • content Delivery Networks
  • TV/Video Streams
  • audio/Video Clips
  • web Ads/analytics
  • social networking
  • shopping
  • travel
  • audio/radio Streams
  • sports/recreation

We will keep these arrangements under constant review and will also closely the capacity of our network – most especially as we extend our bandwidth in the near future.

Tips for working from home

1. The Secure Remote Access (SRA) service is designed to keep you connected at all times (this is sometimes called “Always on VPN”) therefore when you turn on your computer you should connect and stay connected all day. If there is an interruption it will try to reconnect again automatically. However, to help protect the service from being overloaded we ask you to disconnect when possible, for instance when you are working on off line documents or emails. You can disconnect from the network by following these instructions on how to disconnect (and reconnect) from the network 

2. Keeping in touch with your colleagues and teams will be paramount for effective public service throughout this time with staff located around the country. We need to use the most effective but most efficient means of communication for each instance. We must consider keeping video communications to a minimum and this should only be used where absolutely necessary. Please consider the following priority order for means of communication.

For Individual (1-1) communications

  • email
  • instant messaging (via Jabber)
  • mobile phone
  • Jabber voice calls (where available but turn off video)

For Group Communications

  • email
  • audio tele conference
  • Webex video conference
  • TMS (Corporate) video conferencing

NOTE: the Webex and TMS have limited numbers of concurrent video conferencing connections.These should be used only when absolutely necessary. Please remember that all NICS Departments require these facilities too.

3. Please remember that access to the SRA service is via the shared NICS Internet Connection and therefore uses the same connection that the public will use for access to information on NICS websites (such as NI Direct) and is the same internet connection that staff use to access the Internet for website browsing or online business applications. So we all now need to consider our need for internet browsing over this period. Where possible please use other devices (such as your mobile phone) if you want to get the latest information from news sites, view online video streams, do internet shopping etc. During this period, access to some non-business sites will be disabled.

4. If staff are working on large documents please remember that documents will take time to open (particularly large documents) so where possible you should move these into offline folders and work on them locally on your laptop so you are not constantly moving documents up and down the remote connection. Further information can be found on the IT Assist Intranet How to pages.

Keeping safe online

Advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) at this time is to strengthen cyber defences rather than weaken them for operational needs. On 17 March the NCSC issued the following guidance to assist organisations to prepare for and implement home working

The advice provides some best practice guidance on how risks can be mitigated.

Department of Finance’s Digital Shared Services have established security processes and will continue to monitor closely the security of our environment. NCSC has highlighted that cyber criminals are preying on fears of the coronovirus and sending 'phishing' emails that try and trick users into accessing illegitimate links.

Additional Service Improvements

Digital Shared Services are urgently investigating other collaboration tools and technologies to deliver improved on-line working capability and communications in support our staff working remotely. We will keep you regularly updated as we progress these urgent initiatives and service improvements which we hope to deploy over the coming weeks.

Information Management advice

Please read the important information below from DoF Information Management Unit & Data Services. IMU&DS have also provided guidance on remote working which you can find below.

Choose your workspace sensibly

If possible try to work somewhere that enables you to protect the information on your laptop and any papers that you may have. If possible work in a study or spare room, and if you have to work in communal areas, try to make sure that your work cannot be seen by others.

Remember your family and flatmates are probably not cleared!

You may trust them with your deepest personal secrets, but please remember that family members and flatmates almost certainly do not have security clearance or a ‘need to know’ about what you are working on.

  • please avoid leaving sensitive papers and documents out where they can be seen by others
  • if you have to make a sensitive phone call, make sure you cannot be overheard – voices can carry further than you may think
  • if you need to do a Video/Teleconferencing Call make sure other people are not in the room with you, and ensure that the volume is at a level that cannot be overheard

Turn Alexa off

If you have an Alexa or similar device, make sure it is switched off while you are holding official phone calls. These devices work by recording your voice, so anything you say will be in the strictest of confidence between yourself, the person on the call and Amazon.

  • please turn off all ‘Alexa’ style devices in the room you are working in

Protect paperwork

Identify a secure storage location for your electronic assets and make sure that your papers get put away when not being worked on. Ensure that none of your family or flatmates are able to have access to protectively marked material.

  • lock up all work assets and papers when not in use. Do not tell other people where you are storing them.
  • if you need to dispose of protectively marked paperwork it must either be shredded, or stored for return to work for shredding in the office. Do not throw it in the bin.

Think about classification

Remember to work on the right classification system for the work you are doing. Normal NICS IT and applications is secure at up to "Offical".

If you need to work at above "Offical" then make sure you have got the appropriate laptop and communication systems to do this. Please do not take a risk by discussing protectively marked material on a lower classification system.

Travelling with NICS IT equipment

NICS policy is not to permit taking phones or laptops abroad on leave except in the most exceptional circumstances.

If you are travelling to Europe for a weekend trip, then you may, exceptionally, request permission to travel with your laptop if you wish to cover the risk of being delayed on your return due to COVID-19.

Please request to take your laptop abroad via your manager and note that the request is due to the potential risk of being stranded. In the event that you are delayed returning then you will have IT connectivity.

Please note that you should still work in accordance with security guidelines, and exercise appropriate caution around working abroad.

Please do not travel with your laptop or phone without permission as it will not be enabled for roaming and may be remotely disabled.

What happens if something goes wrong?

If you encounter problems with your IT, you should call the Service Desk on 0300 123 4155 (operational hours are from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday). However, in the event of requiring support on laptops/mobile devices, it is worth noting that not all ‘fixes’ are possible remotely. If not urgent it is advised that staff who are working away from the office on their designated days should: 

If you find yourself in a situation where you think your material has been lost or stolen then it is vital that you contact IT assist as quickly as possible. This will allow us to remotely disable phones and laptops and identify what potential security compromises may have occurred.





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