He was a It was a Sunday morning in mid-October 2020 when Rob Miller first heard that something was wrong. Databases and IT systems at Hackney Council, in East London, were suffering from outages. At the time, the UK was heading for its second deadly coronavirus outbreak, with millions living under lockdown restrictions and normal life disrupted. But for Miller, who is the state’s director of operations, things were about to get worse. “By lunchtime, it was clear that it was more than art,” Miller said.
Two days later, leaders of Hackney Council, which is one of 32 London boroughs responsible for killing more than 250,000 people, revealed it had been hit by cyber threats. The pirates sent a ransom note that halted its operations, preventing the council from monitoring its dependents. The Pysa ransomware gang later claimed responsibility for the attack and, a few weeks later, said it was distributing the stolen information to the council.
Today, two years later, Hackney Council is still dealing with the consequences of the ransomware attack. For a year, most of the council’s services were unavailable. Key council systems – including housing affordability and care support – were not working properly. Although its functions are still functioning, some parts of the council are still not functioning as they were before.
A THOROUGH ANALYSIS of many council meetings, minutes, and documents reveals the extent of the redemptive crisis that caused the council and, more importantly, the thousands of people it serves. People’s health, homes, and money were ruined because of the terrorist attacks. Hackney’s attack stands out not only for its severity, but also for the amount of time the organization has taken to restore and support people in need.
You can think of local governments as complex machines. It is made up of thousands of people running hundreds of services that touch almost every aspect of human life. Many of these jobs go unnoticed until something goes wrong. For Hackney, the redemption attack stopped the machine.
Among the hundreds of services Hackney Council provides are social and child care, waste collection, wage payments for people in need of financial assistance, and public housing. Most of these services are managed using technology and home services. In many ways, this can be considered a priority, making Hackney Council no different from hospitals or energy providers.
“Attacks on public institutions, such as local councils, schools, or universities, are very powerful,” said Jamie MacColl, a cyber security and threat researcher at the RUSI think tank who researches the public impact of ransomware. “It’s not like the power grids are going down or like the water supply is going down … but it’s things that are very important in everyday life.”
All systems running on Hackney’s servers were affected, Miller told MPs at a public hearing to assess ransomware attacks in 2022. Social care, housing benefits, council tax, business rates, and housing services were among the worst affected. Archives and records were not found – the council did not offer any compensation. “Most of our data and our IT systems that generate data were not available, which greatly affected the services we were able to provide, but also the work we do,” Lisa Stidle, data and intelligence. manager at Hackney Council, said when speaking about the council’s recovery last year.