Police investigating after cyberattack brings down IT systems at Western Isles Council
Police are investigating after a suspected cyberattack yesterday evening at Western Isles council caused ‘significant disruption’ – including the disruption of benefits payments.
Members of the public have been advised to contact the council by phone after the ongoing outage crashed Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s IT systems and website.
Government assistance has been requested by the council, which represents the outer Hebrides and whose headquarters is in Stornaway, Isle of Lewis.
The BBC reported that the incident was a suspected ransomware attack and that computer giant Dell was also providing help.
A Comhairle nan Eilean Siar spokesperson said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is continuing to work with Police Scotland, Scottish Government and the National Cyber Security Centre to establish the full impact of Tuesday’s criminal cyber incident.
“While investigative work continues the Comhairle’s priority in response to this incident remains to restore and secure services, ensuring their continued delivery to those in our communities who need them most.
“One key aspect of achieving this aim has been work on the processing of benefit and support payments. While payments have been made to the public, restrictions to file access has affected other scheduled payments. The impact to IT systems has also meant that invoices due to creditors cannot be paid at this time. The Comhairle appreciates the impact late payments can have and is working to resolve these issues as soon as possible. The Comhairle will be in contact with the affected individuals to provide updates and support.
“The Comhairle’s email system is now restored, and work is ongoing to redirect numbers for key public services. A temporary website is also in development which will allow members of the public to access key information. The Comhairle’s out of hours service is functioning as normal.”
The council has published temporary mobile phone numbers for people needing to access children and adult social care and social work services.
The Western Isles comprise a collection of 15 inhabited islands, including Lewis and Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra, and have a population of 26,640 people.
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Officers have received a report of a cyber incident in Stornoway. The incident was reported to police on Tuesday, 7 November, 2023. Enquiries are ongoing.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is aware that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is investigating a significant IT incident. Officials are in contact with the council and are offering support.”
A Comhairle nan Eilean Siar council spokesman said that staff are able to perform their duties and have developed some workaround solutions whilst IT systems are down. Staff are, for example, able to send and receive emails using a cloud-based system; other systems have been taken offline whilst investigators probe the cyberattack.
The spokesman also confirmed that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) are among the government agencies providing assistance and support, as well as Police Scotland and the Scottish Government. The spokesman said they were dealing with a “criminal cyber incident” but neither confirmed nor denied that it was a ransomware attack.
A NCSC spokesperson said: “We are working with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to fully understand the impact of an incident.”
A Comhairle nan Eilean Siar spokesperson said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is engaging with Police Scotland, Scottish Government and the National Cyber Security Centre following a criminal cyber incident on 7 November.
“The Comhairle’s priority following this incident is to restore and secure services ensuring their continued delivery to those in our communities who need them most.
“It is vital that the Comhairle is contactable to allow us to serve the communities of the Western Isles. The Comhairle’s email system is now restored, and work is ongoing to redirect numbers for key public services.
“The Comhairle’s out of hours service is functioning as normal.”