Some central government departments are still using the 11-year-old browser Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), which is preventing staff from using social media networks to engage with citizens.

This is despite the government’s belief that IE6 is “no longer fit for purpose as a corporate web browser”, according to guidance Whitehall published today, as part of the Government ICT Strategy, on overcoming technical barriers to accessing the internet and social media.

In addition, the government’s information assurance body, CESG, “strongly advocates running the latest version of a browser, as older versions do not have the security mitigations the newer browsers have.”

The guidance has been published alongside a document encouraging civil servants to engage more with each other and with citizens through social media channels.

Recommendations that the government has produced for departments to work around the infrastructure issues range from upgrading internet browsers or deploying a second, modern browser, to providing employees with mobile devices giving them richer internet access.

However, one of the common factors holding departments from upgrading their internet browser is that some legacy web applications, such as HR and finance portals, were designed only to work with older versions of the internet browsers.

The government said that the long-term goal should be to remove reliance of all applications on legacy browsers, and ensure that new applications are designed to be agnostic of browser technology.

What browsers are government departments using?

Mozilla Firefox was cited as an alternative browser being used by departments to get round the infrastructure problems.

For instance, it is used by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which uses it as an alternative browser to access internal services. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is using Firefox as a “stop-gap measure” before it moves to a virtualised desktop solution.

The Home Office, meanwhile, is planning to deploy Google Chrome as a second browser.

Another prospect is to enable Bring Your Own Device, which CESG is expected to publish advice on later this month.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has recently given permission for staff at its headquarters to use the Wi-Fi network to access the internet from non-secure devices, but this is not a policy that is likely to be adopted by everyone, as the Ministry of Defence has a complete ban on BYOD, for example, and is unlikely to change its mind.