An SMS fraud adventure

A few of us began receiving SMS based fraud messages over the last few months. Covid-19 related fraud, HSBC overdraft fraud, Royal Mail related fraud amongst others. One in particular was very persistent and it seemed that everyone I spoke with was on the recipient list. Obviously the next step here is to forward the SMS to 7726 (which presented a few challenges, see *footnote below). However, I began wondering if I could to get the fraudulent website taken down myself… well… Challenge accepted!


Private Eye

After a little investigation it actually turned out to be incredibly easy.

Step 1. Identify the DNS provider for the domain.
I used https://mxtoolbox.com/Whois.aspx and I simply searched for the website mentioned in the fraud SMS.

That gave me the name of the DNS provider used by the fraudsters. The DNS provider manages domain names such as website addresses for innocent customers and inadvertently, criminal customers.

In the information returned, you’ll need to look for the “abuse” email address to contact if domains they host are being abused – e.g. used for crime.

Step 2. Email the DNS provider, advising them of the website and the issue and ask them to investigate and take the site down.

Example mail:

Hi,

This website DNS is hosted by you :
<insert website URL>
Your customer is sending fraudulent SMS messages to UK residents directing them to this website. The site is being used illegally by your customer to take money and information fraudulently from UK residents.
Please investigate and take the website down.

Thanks!

So.. I sent the mail off the their abuse team and waited..

POW!

By the end of the day the fraud site was inaccessible! (Very satisfying).

Next day I had another SMS with a new fraud URL (linking back to that same website), so took a minute out of my day to check the DNS provider and email them again.

BAM!
Site down again within a few hours!! (ok this is fun)

Later on they seemed annoyed and sent four more SMS one after another, with two new URLs, but same website again…

ZAP!

Got those taken down too!!! (‘k, this is worth a blog post)


Its four days down the line now and no more SMS messages have turned up but if I get any more I’ll still report them, but then try to get the site out of action as fast as possible by contacting their provider directly.


So the point of telling you this is really to show that we are not powerless. We don’t have to just accept fraud, phishing etc. through SMS and Email. Although we’ve received it, we need to push back and report it when we can, so that others don’t get affected.

So I make a request now to you all.

Check out the excellent NCSC guidance here and then help others understand how to spot the tell-tale signs and what to do next.

If you do get a fraud SMS, don’t just delete it, follow the official guidance above and report it, but once that’s done you can also have a go for yourself, and may get the same sense of satisfaction of seeing the site taken down a lot more quickly...

And if you don’t have the time, by all means name the site in the comments and we’ll give it a go for you.

*footnote.

After receiving the SMS I duly reported by forwarding to 7726, only to receive a response saying that the message was undeliverable! A quick search revealed it’s a common experience (and something to look into later).

Not one to be put off, I figured I’d assemble the details into an email, remembering to include the URL of the fraudulent website and sent that off to report@phishing.gov.uk

Ironically Google mail rejected my email, presumably because it contained the very phishing URL I was trying to report!! (hopefully Google completes this circle for us by reporting these blocked malicious URLs to NCSC – would be nice to see some public reassurance about that though). However the dodgy website was still up and I was continuing to receive the same SMS messages.

Eventually I sent a screen shot of the SMS to report@phishing.gov.uk and that successfully went through without setting off any Google alarms and had a nice confirmation email from NCSC.

Customer satisfaction

As part of our dedication to customer excellence, we recently ran our second Socitm user satisfaction survey.  There is an animated version of this here also: https://www.powtoon.com/w/d2WrLdMiXIH/1/m

We first ran this survey in December 2019 when the workload and the needs of our customers and residents were very different.  However, the Council now has a new set of values, which we are keen to embrace.  

Whilst this year we have had slightly less responses, overall, we still had 30% of customers respond, which gives us some great feedback, and insight into the services we provide. 

We believe it is essential to continue to drive the service forwards and regularly listening to our customers is an important part of this. Generally, scores across the board have improved, which is great to hear, but there is always room for improvement.  

Customer satisfaction 

We have improved the overall user satisfaction in LBH and are now performing in the top number of comparable local authorities – The figures show an improvement in performance of over 10% from a high score in 2019, despite the challenging times faced providing a continued service to all customers and supporting the Council’s Covid response.  

There are many comments suggesting changes to improve services: –  

  • As part of the response, we have set up a new portal to get IT problems seen and dealt with more efficiently. This portal will continue to be updated and improved, based on the changing needs of the customer.  
  • All our team members (from front-line to back-line) are completing compulsory customer service training to ensure we can focus on the needs of our customers as a single unit, and to ensure a consistent service, across the board.  

Staff able to work flexibly 

When staff were forced to work from home in March 2020, the Council had just moved into a new building, so all staff were used to working away from the office.  

Nevertheless, this number went up overnight from 500 regularly doing this, to over 1600.  

As the survey shows, Hounslow now ranks as the number one local authority for this area.  

Comments were made around the use of remote working. In response, further improvements are planned to increase capacity.  

We are also rolling out better devices (via our Device Refresh programme) to ensure all council devices are under 4 years old. 

Cyber security  

With so many changes / improvements to our IT systems, we still need to make sure that they are as secure as can be. We must also keep in mind that the external threat is constantly evolving and needs continuous improvement.   

The Council ranks very highly for taking security seriously, with 75% of staff scoring this highly. 

In response to the comments, we have rolled out a new GDPR and Cyber Security training course for all staff, to ensure staff continue to be Cyber-Safety aware and figures for completion are nearing 100%.

Switching on Synergy for our children’s centres

On 5 November, Hounslow Children’s Centres bade farewell to EStart – a database that we had been using for over 10 years – and switched on Synergy.  Given that this was such a significant change, it is not surprising that the seeds were first sown about two years ago, when we began looking for an alternative to eStart.  This eventually grew into a much larger project, with several other services such as the Family Services Directory and Primary Admissions also joining.

The timetable for the implementation of Synergy took account of each service’s key dates and as a result, Children’s Centres were the first to go live.  This was the culmination of many hours of work with Synergy and the ICT team, which  took us through a number of different processes.  These covered service design; customising the system to meet the needs of our business; the migration of over 10 years of data from eStart and training. 

One of the main advantages of Synergy for our service, is that it will enable us to digitalise many of our processes that were paper-based.  As it is a case management system, it will also enable us to review all of our existing systems, so that they  provide a better service for our families, partner organisations and other teams within the Council.  Looking forward, the real potential of Synergy lies in the benefits that could result from the use of the system by a number of teams within the Council and its integration with other systems such as LCS and EHM.  This is a really exciting prospect and makes all of the hard work completely worthwhile.

I would like to thank Hannah, Shireen, Jo, Joy, Louise, Srwa, Hovik and Kate from Digital & ICT for everything that they have done to help us go live with Synergy.  They have devoted a huge amount of time to the project, with many of them working beyond ‘normal’ working hours to get the work done.  All of this was done with endless amounts of patience and good humour.  I have promised them that they can come and visit a children’s centre, once things return to normal.

Sandra Jones
Strategic Lead for Children’s Centres

Our first ever Digital Festival Hounslow

Wow, what an incredible month November was.  What started as an idea at the beginning of September turned into a 4-week reality and now it is hard to believe that our first ever Digital Festival Hounslow is over already.  The Festival was a resounding success and the figures speak for themselves:

  • Digital Festival Hounslow ran over 20 days 
  • We held 62 events of which 16 were open to the community
  • 7 events in partnership with local businesses including Chimni, See.Sense and our Community & Voluntary partners
  • Ran 3 events with two of our key digital partners, LOTI and SOCITM
  • 16 events in partnership with global business including Microsoft, Amazon and Google 
  • 6 events in partnership with Organisational Development 
  • 3 events in partnership with Public Health 
  • 26 events delivered by D&IT 
  • 2 Councillor led sessions
  • We had 80 different speakers​
  • ​We delivered over 55 hours of live content
  • 18.5 hours which was recorded and is available to watch back on our SharePoint site​
  • 10:30 has been uploaded to our YouTube channel for the public to view
  • Finally: ……. we had 2700 sign up requests!

We delivered events on Wellbeing and Technology, Assistive Technology in Social Care, Social Prescribing, Employment, LinkedIn and CV writing, smart cycle lights, digital inclusion and so much more. We have archived the recordings these sessions on the council’s YouTube channel.

Feedback on the Digital Festival Hounslow has been overwhelmingly positive and whilst we can’t include them all here are a couple that really sum the month up for us:

‘This has been a great initiative, and I’m proud to work in an organisation that continuously prides itself in new initiatives and involving colleagues in doing so too. I feel very connected and not isolated (considering when I work remotely (I have no other interactions) which isn’t how it’d be if we were at Hounslow House.’

‘There have been some really great events and the well-being session have had a positive impact, we should have more of these’

This would not have been a success without the work of our partners and the engagement of our community, so we extend a huge thank you from us all to everyone who took part in one way or another.  We will take all we have learned to make next year’s even bigger and better.

Thank you from all of us in the Digital Festival Hounslow team

See you next year!

Customer service in Digital

Listening to our customer views is so important – the teams have done a fantastic job during the crisis and informal feedback has been great, but it is so valuable to get feedback from all areas of the council so that we can showcase all the work done and continue to improve Digital in all teams. 

We used the Socitm user satisfaction survey as we did last year – this allows us the opportunity to compare where we were in 2019, and with other organisations. It is key given the Digital Strategy for Hounslow was approved in March 2020 so we can show the outcomes for the organisation from this investment. 

We have just started to work on a service improvement plan to follow up on all feedback received – some headline figures so far: 

  • Customer satisfaction has increased by 10% and we compare very well to other similar organisations. 
  • The view of whether Digital provides innovative solutions for the Council has increased by 14%. 
  • Our score on whether we allow staff to work flexibly is in the top 25% now –this is great to see, given the pandemic and there is so much more we can do. 

Next steps

There are many improvements we can make based on feedback and below is our initial list some of which build on existing programmes: 

  • Further accelerate our device refresh programme so more of our colleagues continue to have the best devices to deliver front line services in their role. 
  • Customer service training for all Digital staff to ensure we all continue to improve our skills in this area. 
  • Continued improvement in communications   – we have launched a new self-service portal which we can continue to adapt and improve in response to the organisation needs including more automation of routine work to allow teams to focus on value added work. 

We will publish more information on the work we do in response to the survey as part of our relentless focus on improving services for our residents as we deliver more excellent services as part of the Digital Strategy and our One Hounslow programme approach continues to improve services across the Council. 

Throughout the pandemic we have had help at our main building to ensure we keep our customers safe and bring something different to our customer service “Nice 2 metre, 2 metre nice”

Hounslow Digital Apprenticeships by Shiza Touqeer

Around this time last year, I had just graduated from university and I was very uncertain about my career. Certainly, many fresh graduates have fears that they will not find a stable job due to their lack of experience and minimal professional knowledge. I wasn’t any different and the anxiety of staying at home was taking over me to the point that I was thinking, I might not be good enough to get a job. That is when a family friend suggested me to apply for the position of an apprentice at London Borough of Hounslow as an ICT Client Support Officer working as part of the servicedesk team. 

I was reluctant to take up the position of an apprentice because many people had suggested that I have a degree and I should just apply for permanent positions instead. Regardless of the uncountable suggestions, I decided to apply and successfully got the job, which boosted my confidence. I started to work on the apprenticeship in November 2019 and I would definitely say that this has been one of the best decisions I have made.  

Prior to being an apprentice, I had many misconceptions about not being equal to the rest of the team or having to complete jobs that nobody wants to do however, once I began to work in my current position, I was positively surprised. Apprenticeships not only prepare you to face the professional world heads on but they also help to build up knowledge. Thankfully, I have been in a team of people and managers that have never made me feel like I was an apprentice and gave me equal amount of responsibilities with my other colleagues which made me feel very confident.

AWS Challenge with Loti team 

I have also had the opportunity to participate in an AWS challenge as part of an apprentice day with Loti, which me and my team managed to win due to our team effort. Me and my fellow apprentices worked on an idea to develop the “Test & Trace”, application where we made sure that our targeted customers’ needs were met. That day, I realised that there are many doors that can open up for us and participating in such activities actually helped me understand that no opinion or idea is a bad one, which led us to victory.  

Apprenticeship course 

I have been part of the Firebrand Infrastructure Technician course and that involved meeting up tight deadlines and be part of group projects and trainings. I can argue that this has been anything but easy so I would recommend not to take apprenticeships easily. Being part of the servicedesk and working on my portfolio have been a challenge however, I have made sure that  I request enough “off the job” time from my manager and let my colleagues know whenever I need to juggle between the two.  

Reflections 

I would recommend people to take up apprenticeships because they are a great way to enhance skills and allow you to connect with likeminded people. It has been a very positive experience for me so far and I look forward to completing my apprenticeship in the upcoming months.  

Designing our digitally-optimised future services

Designing our digitally-optimised future services

It has been an intense but exciting six months since Hounslow’s new Digital Strategy, a central plank in how we will achieve our transformational ‘One Hounslow’ vision, was agreed by Cabinet.

We have designed and implemented an innovative, lean governance to support the implementation of the strategy and embed service design thinking into all digital projects.

In the first six months, five major projects have been shaped and agreed through our Design Authority covering a diversity of areas such as Children’s Safeguarding, Regulatory Services, Planning and Building Control, and Educational services.

This has all been achieved through remote working – something which none of us imagined when we were developing the strategy!

The Digital Design Authority is designed to give a rounded view and agreement from a wide range of disciplines that reflect the council’s broader needs. So, in addition to the core IT capabilities you’d expect in a Design Authority (such as technical architecture, security, information governance), we also have professionals from Communications, Procurement, Finance, HR and Organisation Design and two senior representatives from Services.

The power of commitment from a Service Owner

Our Design Authority works by inviting a ‘Service Owner’ to sponsor and lead the presentation of an outline business case on the proposed digital project to the group, supported by Digital and IT. Service Design works with the Service Owner and others to develop the business case – in a genuine collaborative, co-design effort.

Some other things that we believe also help are that we use concise PowerPoint slides rather than long word documents. Over time and with some internal coaching, our Business Relationship Managers will take on this role. Also, we have focused on ‘Futures’ priorities project where service design has the most potential benefits.

This approach has been very well received and has been instrumental in helping to build in service design thinking and moving forward at pace on a number of key projects.

“This (Design Authority) is a breath of fresh air and an absolutely sound approach”  Sarah Scannell, Assistant Director Planning

Where next?

Last month we held a retrospective on our first six months of Design Authority. We used a retro tool to do this online, asking the group what they liked, learnt or thought was lacking.

The feedback was brilliant – highlighting the positives that the group sees but also being very open about what could be improved or changed. For example, some members of the group felt we need to provide more detail on full costs and outputs, even if only estimates. We were challenged whether there was more we could do to quantify outcomes at the outset. And the need to identify efficiency savings (as well as user benefits) was reinforced – no prize for guessing which department that came from!

Service owner Martin Forshaw, Assistant Director Children’s Safeguarding led the case to our first Design Authority back in March. The proposal was strongly backed and some very useful steers and inputs given. He told us afterwards:

“The thought of being the first to do this was terrifying! But it went well judging from people’s response and comments in the meeting. We have a great opportunity to take a fresh look at how we design our services and I’m looking forward to seeing this as we work through it together.”

Following agreement on Children’s Safeguarding at the Design Authority, we brought in a partner to deliver a discovery phase, working with a ‘blended team’ drawn from the Service, Digital & IT and service design specialist skills. We are coming to the end of that discovery – and it has been done completely remotely. But that is a story for another week…

Keep in touch

If you would like to contribute to, or talk about any of the work, you can get in touch with Franco Degan, Andrew Connor or Barbara Munden in the Digital and IT Team

Cognitive shade

As Head of Digital Services at Hounslow, continuing to look after our colleague’s mental health has been critical. The Digital and IT teams were amongst the first to be sent home a week before the official lockdown whilst seeing a doubling in our service demand and most members of the team have not been to our main building since that time. As the crisis continued, the working environment has been become ever tougher with the team maintaining an onsite presence throughout this time alongside the pressures we all have in our personal lives currently. 

For IT teams the pressures are unique.  In normal times working in IT is a stressful job , surveys have shown over 70% of staff find it stressful  – in the public sector we are helping  people who deliver critical services and sometimes it is hard for staff not to take criticism personally. 

During this time a member of our ServiceDesk team Aman passed away suddenly at 22 from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which had a huge impact on the team (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/johal-family).  We raised money for this cause through  a 19 challenge  such as to Do any exercise for 19 minutes every day for a week, Do 19 minutes meditation every day for a week or finish every meal with a piece of fruit for 19 meals and had great participation across all teams. 

The pressure on mental health has been immense for all staff. The support the council has provided has been fantastic with resilience webinars, continued support from the paid for Employee Assistance Programme from Validium, regular updates from senior managers using Microsoft teams.   

All staff are being encouraged to take their holidays on a continued effort to achieve work/life balance. In addition, within our teams we have had quizzes, some virtual pub nights, show and tells for all teams every 2 weeks. We have encouraged people to stay in contact with each other as they would do if they were in the office and call people just to catchup as you would do over coffee or at the desk in more normal times. 

We have had a couple major system issues to deal with, which has been even more ‘fun’ with the number of staff at home across the organisation having increased 5-fold.  All this alongside supporting Council meetings going virtual out of hours – the work has frequently meant late night working and weekend working.  

I have been engaging with our Organisational Development teams on setting up specific seminars for Digital & IT staff through MIND as Hounslow as an organisation is likely to be working remotely for the foreseeable future  This will help to ensure we continue to offer support over the extend period of time alongside regular communications to ensure we all remain in touch with each other. 

Support

If you need support with your mental health, please ask – people will help.  A good starting point for support is https://www.mind.org.uk/ , https://youngminds.org.uk/ or  https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ 

Children’s Safeguarding project – a new way of working

The Children’s Safeguarding project is a new way of working for Hounslow, supporting our One Hounslow transformation. Martin Forshaw, the service Assistant Director, was the first ‘service owner’ to bring an outline business case to the Council’s Digital Design Authority, a new group comprising disciplines from across the council to review all key digital projects.

We have started with an 8-week discovery phase, working with FutureGov as our partners, aiming ultimately to deliver a redesigned Safeguarding service which is customer-focused, employee-friendly and digitally optimised.

A key aspect of this is the data and as a joined-up part of this project we have also brought in some specialist help to redesign and improve the management reporting for this Service.

We are working collaboratively as a blended Hounslow and FutureGov team in an agile way to understand how we can best redesign the service to improve the user experience for clients, professional partners and staff; and where we can improve efficiency and ultimately enable social workers spend more time with their client families.

Getting started

We used the first week of the project as our planning week to get the project set up for success. We had a team kickoff workshop where we were able to:

  • Establish the team and define roles and responsibilities within it.
  • Set up the project communications and rhythms, particularly how we are going to work together remotely throughout the project.
  • Plan the project work and what we would like to achieve in each sprint.
  • Started identifying user groups that we wanted to engage with going forward.

Research planning session

We kicked off the actual project work with a research planning session. Using Microsoft teams and the collaborative online tool called Miro, the team started off with an introduction to design research from FutureGov and then worked together to map out the research plan for the project.

The research plan covered the key research areas (what we want to find out), the key user groups (who do we need to speak to and how many people) as well as the methodologies we want to use (how best can we speak to these people to get the information we need).

Next steps

Having a draft research plan in place, the next phase of the project includes recruiting the users and actually conducting some of this research to learn more about the current service, uncovering the main pain points and opportunities within it.

Alongside this, we are mapping out the current end-to-end user journey within the Safeguarding service. This way will help us identify potential pain points within the service as well as opportunity areas where digital improvements can be made which will lead to more efficient ways of working.

Keep in touch If you would like to contribute or talk about any of the work, you can get in touch with Franco Degan, Barbara Munden or Priscilla Kurewa.

Cyber Essentials Plus!

Digital and IT are pleased to announce that the Hounslow Council has achieved a new security certification, Cyber Essentials Plus!

Cyber Security

Cyber Essentials is a Government backed scheme to aid organisations of all sizes in the UK to protect themselves from the most common forms of cyber-attacks.  The scheme consists of two levels, the basic certification which is a technical self-assessment of the organisation’s cyber security and the much more involved and difficult to pass Cyber Essentials Plus which not only requires the self-assessment but requires third party penetration testers to assess and verify your cyber security.

We applied for the second level, CE+, are pleased to be among the first public sector organisations to be successful.

Our Security team worked alongside third party security assessors and our own Digital and IT team during the run up to Christmas to complete this work.  We even had a bit of a ‘high-five’ moment when we learned (during our Christmas get-together) that the penetration testers had been unable to forcibly breach the network security measures we have in place in our new building.  They needed to be granted access by our team to carry out the assessment.  The team allowed themselves an extra couple of chicken wings from the Christmas finger-food buffet that day ..it was wild 🙂

The Cyber Essentials Plus badge assures our residents and partners that we provide a secure IT service by proving that we have cyber security measures in place which helps to reduce our risk of cyber-attacks significantly (this scheme quotes up to 80%).

In achieving this certification it is a clear indication that we are doing the right thing when it comes to securing and protecting data. 

With Digital playing an important role going forward, we are committed to maintaining the high standards we set for ourselves and ensure that we maintain and exceed the standards recognised through this certification for years to come.

Useful Links:

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberessentials/overview

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cyber-essentials-scheme-overview