News story

Whitehall starts using simpler security classifications

The government will start using new and simpler security classifications from 2 April 2014 to speed up work and save the taxpayer money.

More than 700,000 civil servants and military personnel are using the new markings, and the wider public sector will adopt them at a later date. The new system is specifically designed for working in a digital way and is more straightforward to understand.

The new markings will also allow information to be classified in a more consistent way and make it easier to share information between departments and with partner organisations without undermining security.

New security classifications

There are now 3 levels of security:


Most public sector information is classed as Official, including routine government businesses, public service delivery and commercial activity. Around 90% of government business will be marked as Official.


This level is for very sensitive information that justifies heightened protective measures - eg where compromising this could seriously damage military capabilities, internal relations or the investigation of serious organised crime.

Top Secret

The most sensitive information requiring the highest levels of protection from the most serious threats should be marked as Top Secret – eg where compromising could cause widespread loss of life or threaten the security or wellbeing of the country, or friendly nations.

Previous security classifications

The 6 previous levels of protective marking were Unclassified, Protect, Restricted, Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.

This system dated from a time when civil servants only worked with paper. Using this system with government IT has led to unnecessary controls, complexity, and misunderstandings. Reforming the system will help save the taxpayer money, allowing government to buy standardised IT rather than expensive bespoke solutions.

The changes are part of the government’s civil service reform programme, designed to strip away bureaucracy and give civil servants greater responsibility for the work they do.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:

We have changed a security classification system that was designed decades ago and introduced a new system fit for the digital age. It will make it easier to share information and save money. There has been a tendency to over-mark documents rather than to manage risk properly. The most important and sensitive materials must continue to be protected as ‘Top Secret’ or ‘Secret’ but for other information the new ‘Official’ category, with its emphasis upon personal responsibility and accountability, will be appropriate for most of what government does.

Help us improve GOV.UK

Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.