“Local authorities facing 19 million cyber attacks per year” reveals Big Brother Watch

UK councils have been subjected to over 98 million cyber attacks in the past five years, an investigation by privacy campaigner Big Brother Watch has revealed. The report exposes the extraordinary extent of cyber security threats faced by local authorities – amounting to 37 cyber attacks every minute – while criminals are accumulating “growing troves” of sensitive and personal information about citizens.

Big Brother Watch’s report uncovers an “overwhelming failure” of councils to report losses and breaches of data, as well as shortcomings in staff training. The investigation reveals that 25 councils experienced a loss or breach of data, but more than half of these episodes went unreported. Although human error is the main factor in making a hacking attempt successful, the investigation found that three in four local authorities don’t provide mandatory cyber security training for staff.

These findings raise concerns about the ability and commitment of local authorities to defend themselves against cyber attacks. The report comes at a time when local authorities are collecting more personal information about citizens than ever before, making them a growing target for cyber attacks.

Key findings of the research

114 (29%) councils experienced at least one cyber security incident – that is, an actual security breach – between 2013 and 2017. There were 376 cyber security incidents in total. 25 councils experienced one or more cyber security incidents that resulted in the loss (or breaches) of data.

More than half of councils (56%) who experienced a loss or breach of data didn’t report this. 297 authorities (75%) don’t provide mandatory training in cyber security, while 62 (16%) councils don’t provide any cyber security training at all. 

Jennifer Krueckeberg, lead researcher at Big Brother Watch, said: “With councils hit by over 19 million cyber attacks every year, one would assume that they would be doing their utmost to protect citizens’ sensitive information. We’re shocked to discover that the majority of councils’ data breaches go unreported and that staff often lack basic training in cyber security. Local authorities need to take urgent action and make sure they fulfil their responsibilities to protect citizens.”

Pat Walshe, director of data protection consultancy Privacy Matters, added: “The Big Brother Watch report reveals inconsistent approaches towards safeguarding personal and sensitive data held by local authorities. It highlights the pressures faced by local authorities in a world of diminishing resources, but increasing demands. It will be important that local authorities receive appropriate support moving forward.”

Painting a bleak picture

Chris Ross, senior vice-president of international sales at Barracuda Networks, commented: “We’re interested to see this report from Big Brother Watch, which paints a fairly bleak picture of UK councils’ approach to cyber security. This mirrors the findings from our own Freedom of Information report, conducted last year, which found that more than a quarter (27%) of UK councils have fallen victim to a ransomware attack in particular.”

Ross went on to state: “As the UK’s public sector continues its cost-saving push towards bringing more and more services online, an inevitable consequence is that the volume of data on offer to hackers has increased. From our research, we were encouraged to learn that the majority of councils affected were able to minimise the impact due to having a back-up system in place, but it’s disappointing that so many of them fell victim in the first place. The public sector needs to ensure it employs a comprehensive cyber security strategy that protects all attack vectors and surfaces in order to keep citizens’ data safe and avoid potential fines for data breaches.”

*The 66-page Big Brother Watch report entitled ‘Cyber Attacks in Local Authorities’ can be accessed online here

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

Related Posts