Mayor Philip Glanville. Photograph: Hackney Council

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville has voiced his anger at the “morally repugnant” cyber attack that has disrupted many council services over the past fortnight, which he says could not have come at a worse time for the borough.

Council officers were praised last night by Conservative leader Cllr Michael Levy for working to find “out of the box and workaround solutions to very complex problems” as the impact continued to paralyse the Town Hall’s ability to take and make payments.

According to the council, 184 households received housing benefit payments three working days late, contrary to early speculation that thousands could be immediately affected, with payments due to nearly 5,000 other households expected to be processed as normal, though residents are warned discrepancies in these could occur.

Glanville said: “I know that members [of the council] and residents are anxious about what the attack means for their security and the services they rely on. Last Sunday our ICT team realised that the technical issues that the council were facing was actually a serious cyberattack. They worked quickly to stop that attack and try and protect our systems.

“All of us are incredibly angry that organised criminals have chosen to attack us in this way and in the middle of dealing with a global pandemic. It has put our work and the critical work of our frontline and backroom staff who are keeping our community safe at risk, and I think these actions are morally repugnant.

“What we know so far is the attack has impacted on our legacy and non-cloud based systems the most. Different systems, different services rely on specific purposes and functions, whether that is taking or making payments, logging repairs for our tenants, or approving applications from licensing to planning. Our cloud-based services, like the Google systems we use to communicate, were not as affected, and neither was our staff HR and many of our payroll systems.

“We also made sure that critical systems important to combatting coronavirus were up and running, including the contact-tracing efforts. Our first priority is to be open and transparent with our residents. When we know or learn something, we will tell our residents as soon as we can.

“There are things, though, that we still do not know or are unable to say more on at this point. That is partly because this is an active criminal investigation with national agencies involved who are still making their own assessments.”

The Mayor went on to pledge that no penalties will be incurred by residents or businesses unable to make or claim payments as a result of the disruption.

The Town Hall has not confirmed whether the incident is similar in nature to the ransomware attack that hit Redcar Council earlier this year, which is understood to have forced the local authority to rebuild its affected services from scratch at a cost of over £10m.

According to Glanville, the motivation behind the attack remains unknown, as does the full extent of any data loss that may have taken place, with the risk of a breach under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, with the National Crime Agency and the National Cyber Security Centre also drafted in.

The Mayor added his thanks for offers of support received from local police, Town Halls of all political stripes across London, and Hackney’s own Conservative opposition councillors.

Conservative leader Cllr Michael Levy said: “Our group condemns this cowardly and quite despicable cyber attack on Hackney Council. It is equally an attack on the most vulnerable residents of this borough, who rely to an even greater extent during this pandemic on the council’s critical services for help and assistance.

“The damaging effect on the council’s ongoing support for residents is very worrying. We trust that all council online services will return to normal in the shortest possible time, but I fear it may be some time before it does.”

Any resident who does not receive a payment they expected should contact the council on 020 8356 3399.

Residents and businesses are asked to avoid contacting the Town Hall unless absolutely necessary, with phone lines remaining open for essential help and advice and emergency support.

The latest information and advice about how the cyberattack is affecting council services is available at hackney.gov.uk/service-status.

Hackney Council’s standard advice on unsolicited calls can be found below.

There are some occasions when council staff phone residents to discuss payment. If it is a genuine call they will have information to hand and will not require confirmation of details or ask you for any other personal information. If residents have any doubt as to the authenticity of the call, they should take the caller’s name and extension and contact Hackney Council’s switchboard from a different phone to the one they received the call on and ask for that extension number. The signs to look out for are:

  • being asked for money and put under pressure to act immediately
  • being asked to provide bank account details
  • being asked to make a purchase to win a prize
  • being asked to contact a premium rate number
  • receiving an unsolicited call
  • if the caller is reluctant to give their address or contact details

On personal data, residents with any concerns can contact Hackney’s Data Protection Officer, Nicholas Welburn, who can be reached on nicholas.dataprotection@hackney.gov.uk

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