Scottish council another victim of cyberattack

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) remains unable to access some of its data.

Posted 23 November 2023 by Christine Horton

A Scottish council remains unable to access some of its data after a cyberattack locked workers out of operational and backup servers more than two weeks ago.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) was targeted by hackers in what is alleged to be a ransomware attack on Tuesday November 7.

A notice on its website said the incident has caused significant disruption. It added that “the current priority is to restore and secure data and ensure the continued delivery of services to those in our communities who need them most.”

An interim website is still being developed but serves as a holding measure to help provide information and direct time critical enquiries to the most appropriate service area, it said.

A forensic investigation led by Police Scotland alongside National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Scottish Government confirmed on Monday that the council’s IT team could access the council’s servers, but not the stored data.

The council says it will continue to engage with and seek advice from expert organisations to monitor and mitigate the impact of the incident.

The council also stated there is nothing to indicate that any of its data has been extracted from its server or published, and pledged to inform anyone impacted should the situation change.

A second priority, the council said, is to rebuild operations and ensure the continued delivery of services to those in the community.

It has also established a management team to lead on the response to the incident moving forward and said it will communicate its impact through issuing regular updates.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is continuing to receive payments from customers following the attack. However, some payment methods and financial services remain unavailable, including council tax collection and other payments by direct debit.

Malcolm Burr, chief executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said the incident “once again demonstrates the vulnerability of all public bodies to the growing threat of cyberattacks.”

St Helens Council was the victim of a suspected ransomware incident which was identified on August 21. A report issued this week said the attack caused “significant” disruption when key systems were lost.

A cyberattack on Gloucester Council in December 2021, long-lasting disruption, with systems still not fully operational for months. Gloucester’s museum was still unable to access its artefact database in March 2023.