Back-ups deleted in Police Federation ransomware attack

News by Rene Millman

The Police Federation of England and Wales has been hit by an apparent ransomware attack impacting several of its databases and servers.

The Police Federation of England and Wales has been hit by an apparent ransomware attack impacting several of its databases and servers.

The association, which represents 119,000 officers, fell victim to a ransomware attack on 9 March, but was only revealed yesterday. Several databases and email systems were encrypted, according to the organisation, leading to some disruption to its services. Its backup data had also been deleted.

"There is no evidence at this stage that any data was extracted from our systems but this cannot be discounted," the organisation said in a tweet.

In a later tweet it said that, "all indications are that the malware did not spread any further than they systems based at our Surrey headquarters, with none of the 43 branches being directly affected."
In an FAQ it later said that "a number of databases and systems were affected. Back up data has been deleted and data has been encrypted and became inaccessible. Email services were disabled and files were inaccessible."

"As a precaution we are contacting individuals who are potentially affected, including our members, and will be providing them with further helpful information, including as to how they can make enquiries."

The incident is now been reported to the National Cyber Security Centre, the Information Commissioner and the National Crime Agency. An investigation has been started.

"The National Crime Agency is leading an investigation and broader law enforcement response into the cyber-incident affecting the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW)," said a statement by the NCA.

"Specialist officers from the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) are managing the ongoing investigation and are working with the PFEW and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to gain a better understanding of the incident.

"Our investigations into these types of incidents are often complex and can take some time before the full details are established. As our enquiries are ongoing, we cannot comment further at this time," it added.

Max Heinemeyer, director of Threat Hunting at Darktrace told SC Media UK that the fact that the UK Police Federation has fallen victim to a ransomware attack shows that no system, not even those being defended by industry experts, is invulnerable.

"In the wake of this week’s Norsk Hydro attack, we are seeing a slight resurgence of ransomware. The danger is that these attacks don’t have to be technically sophisticated to be devastating. They often abuse systematic weaknesses such as software vulnerabilities, outdated patches and weak administrative credentials. We have even seen some late strains of ransomware with a surprisingly low detection rate by commercial antivirus software," he said.

"Clearly, building walls is no longer enough. Organisations across all sectors will have to adopt AI defences, to catch attackers already on the inside."

Roy Rashti, cyber-security expert at Bitdam, told SC Media UK that large organisations are high-value targets for cyber-criminals.
"Organisations like the PFEW are a gold mine for attackers. Their high-level of communication with the public means that employees are more likely to receive emails from external contacts and, subsequently, at greater risk of being targeted and compromised," he said.

"Therefore, these organisations must ensure that attacks are blocked from reaching end users’ to prevent adversaries from penetrating their networks; particularly via email, the path most travelled by cyber-criminals in today’s climate."

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