Attack damaged 15 servers and six PCs at Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council confirmed that it had two 'major incidents' in the past two years, one of which damaged 15 of its servers and six PCs.

Monday, 24th July 2017, 8:50 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 12:02 pm
City Hall, Belfast city centre - the council had to repair servers and PCs after a cyber attack.

The first incident was a “cryptolocker” ransomware infection attack in 2015/2016 when a ransom was requested, but not paid.

“From our investigations no data was lost from the council,” the council said. “Data that was encrypted was restored from backups and the machines were rebuilt.”

The 2016/2017 major incident was “an unauthorised vulnerability scan” that affected the main Belfast City Council web site.

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It is understood this means that a software tool was used to scan the council web site for vulnerabilities.

The ransom demand was not reported to police but the attack on the council web site was. The council was not aware of whether anyone was prosecuted for the attack it reported to police.

The six computers had to be rebuilt and the data was successfully restored on all 15 servers, at a total cost of £750.

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Meanwhile, freedom of information requests by this investigations unit to over 130 British universities found only one that had paid a ransom to free their computer from hackers – Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

The university has been the victim of six ransomware attacks in the past three years, where hackers have demanded payment from a user in order to return data.

One one occasion a £400 ransom was even paid to the criminals by what is believed to have been a researcher working at the university, with a largely outdated operating system.

A QUB spokeswoman said: “The attack was on a PC running Windows XP. The amount paid was approximately £400. It should be noted that university policy is that ransoms are not paid and this incidence was an exception.”

Mils Hills, associate professor of security at the University of Northampton, said educational institutions need to learn from their mistakes because they are now so reliant on computers to store grades.

“But let’s say they threatened to change a set of students’ grades, it would be impossible to know which had been changed and which hadn’t,” he said. “The integrity of the university could be at stake.”