IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Police Federation hit by seemingly random cyber attack

No evidence yet that attackers extracted any data, or that the malware spread to any branches

Police

Malicious actors have hit the computer systems of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) with a malware attack that, at one point, threatened to spread across the entire organisation.

The association body representing near-120,000 officers was alerted to an attack on 9 March by its cyber security systems, which triggered experts into isolating the attack and stopping it spreading to its 43 individual branches.

The attack is not thought to have specifically targeted the PFEW, rather it is more likely to be part of a wider campaign, the organisation said. There is no evidence as of yet pointing towards who may be responsible, nor is there evidence the perpetrators extracted any personal or sensitive data from PFEW systems.

"Our priority has been to mitigate the damage caused by the attack and to protect the personal data of our members and others whose data we hold," said PFEW national chair John Apter, who apologised for the incident.

"We remain committed to representing police officers and ensuring they are supported. We have set up a dedicated webpage to help officers and other individuals with any questions they may have and have directed them to where they can find guidance on the risks associated with this type of incident."

The PFEW is a statutory body responsible for protecting the welfare of its members, who range from junior officers through to the rank of Chief Inspector. The organisation also gathers the views of its constituent police officers with regards to policy and policing methods, and regularly communicates these to the government of the day.

"Being struck with ransomware at this level seems rare in 2019 but it just goes to show that the cyber criminals will continue to attack wherever there are vulnerabilities," said cyber security specialist with ESET Jake Moore.

"Organisations should never have the only backups online where the virus can attack, plus ransomware mitigation tools are easily accessible and feasible.

"However, there is always a cost involved in the prevention of such attacks and sadly the police does not have access to the amount of financial support required to fully protect itself. Corners will inevitably be cut and the police will remain a target whilst this is still the case."

The PFEW said there has been no evidence of data extraction, and that the malware did not spread any further than the systems based at Federation House, the organisation's headquarters in Surrey. None of its external branches around England and Wales were affected, according to the body.

However, the PFEW has been working with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to establish whether there could be any more indicators pointing to the scale and effects of the attack.

On the nature of non-targeted attacks, which the PFEW believes this to have been, Kaspersky's David Emm told IT Pro that it's interesting how many of these manage to successfully penetrate organisations.

"What was interesting in industrial facilities, the bulk of attacks were ransomware or spyware - just general purpose spyware. And I guess it's interesting for some reasons; one is there's a general understanding that if people are going to be going after those facilities, it's going to be really high-tech targeted attacks, whereas really most of it isn't.

"The second is that if I were an attacker, I'd be lurking around and saying 'wow, if these places can be hit be general purpose malware, what if we actually start trying?'" 

Specialist officers from the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) are taking the lead on the criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the PFEW is liaising with the National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to gain a better understanding of the fallout.

IT Pro approached the PFEW for comment but did not get a response at the time of publication.

Featured Resources

The state of Salesforce: Future of business

Three articles that look forward into the changing state of Salesforce and the future of business

Free Download

The mighty struggle to migrate SAP to the cloud may be over

A simplified and unified approach to delivering Enterprise Transformation in the cloud

Free Download

The business value of the transformative mainframe

Modernising on the mainframe

Free Download

The Total Economic Impact™ Of IBM FlashSystem

Cost savings and business benefits enabled by FlashSystem

Free Download

Recommended

Ransomware now strikes one in 40 organisations per week, Check Point finds
ransomware

Ransomware now strikes one in 40 organisations per week, Check Point finds

27 Jul 2022
Darktrace AI’s Antigena helps stop ransomware attack at Dordogne GHT
ransomware

Darktrace AI’s Antigena helps stop ransomware attack at Dordogne GHT

13 Apr 2022
Sabbath hackers are targeting US schools and hospitals
ransomware

Sabbath hackers are targeting US schools and hospitals

29 Nov 2021
Out-of-hours ransomware attacks have a greater impact on revenue
ransomware

Out-of-hours ransomware attacks have a greater impact on revenue

18 Nov 2021

Most Popular

Why convenience is the biggest threat to your security
Sponsored

Why convenience is the biggest threat to your security

8 Aug 2022
How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode
Microsoft Windows

How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode

29 Jul 2022
Microsoft successfully tests emission-free hydrogen fuel cell system for data centres
data centres

Microsoft successfully tests emission-free hydrogen fuel cell system for data centres

29 Jul 2022