UK local gov: 37 cyber attacks a minute but little mandatory training

Campaigners blame gov bods' growing hunger for big data

Britain's local governments were hit by almost 100 million cyber attacks in the last five years, while one in four councils’ systems were successfully breached, according to research.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch sent Freedom of Information to all the UK's local authorities, asking for details of cyber attacks and data breaches from 2013-17.

Of the 395 councils (94.5 per cent) that responded, some 29 per cent reported at least one cyber security incident, which is defined as an actual breach of their systems.

Tonbridge and Malling Council reported the most - a total of 62 incidents over the five years. Herefordshire said it had experienced 22; Rhonnda, Cynon and Taff reported 18; the City of Edinburgh, 11; and Leicestershire, 10.

Some 25 councils said that there had been a data breach or loss as a result of such incidents, with the councils of Merton and Westminster each saying this had happened three times.

Despite this, 56 per cent of these local authorities admitted they had not reported the incidents - of the two examples above, Merton said it had reported no incidents and Westminster made one report to the police.

Overall, the councils estimated they had been hit by 98 million cyber attacks - defined here as a malicious attempt to damage, disrupt or gain unauthorised access to systems, networks or devices. Most common were malware and phishing.

Big Brother Watch argued that these numbers would only increase as councils continue to build “ever-expanding troves of personal information… under the banner of data-driven government”.

In a bid to provide better, more efficient public services - that also cost the councils less money - authorities are looking to gather more data on people’s habits and movements.

But Big Brother Watch warned that “zealous data sharing comes with real risks”, as the information councils amass are “attractive targets for criminals”.

This should mean staff in councils are well versed in cyber security threats, the group said, but three-quarters said they don’t provide mandatory training, while 16 per cent said there was no training at all.

It also seems cash-strapped councils are keeping the purse strings tight, with more than half saying they had no specific budget for cyber security training or had spent nothing on it.

Pointing out that the councils had experienced the equivalent of 37 attacks a minute, Big Brother Watch slammed the councils for this lack of investment.

“Considering that the majority of successful cyber attacks start with phishing emails aimed at unwitting staff, negligence in staff training is very concerning and only indicative of the low priority afforded to cyber security issues,” the group said.

It called for increased staff training that included refresher courses for all staff, rather than just a one-off when they join the authority.

In addition, Big Brother Watch urged councils to establish simple protocols for reporting incidents that use the National Cyber Security Centre’s definitions to ensure reports are consistent. ®

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