Hackers publish over 4,000 files stolen from SEPA in ransomware attack

1.2GB of data was taken from the Scottish regulator's digital systems on Christmas Eve

A chained lock situated on a laptop displaying a red screen

Cyber criminals have published more than 4,000 files belonging to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The regulator fell victim to a hack on Christmas Eve, which saw around 1.2GB of data stolen from its digital systems, including databases, contracts, and strategy documents. 

The incident has been claimed by the Conti ransomware group, which is considered the successor of the notorious Ryuk strain that was for a third of all ransomware attacks in 2020.

SEPA refused to pay the ransom, with its chief executive Terry A’Hearn saying that the regulator “won’t use public finance to pay serious and organised criminals intent on disrupting public services and extorting public funds”.

“We have made our legal obligations and duty of care on the sensitive handling of data a high priority and, following Police Scotland advice, are confirming that data stolen has been illegally published online.”

A’Hearn added that SEPA is “working quickly with multi-agency partners”, including the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), to “recover and analyse data then, as identifications are confirmed, contact and support affected organisations and individuals”.

Detective inspector Michael McCullagh of Police Scotland’s Cybercrime Investigations Unit said that the investigation remains “ongoing”.

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“Police Scotland are working closely with SEPA and our partners at Scottish Government and the wider UK law enforcement community to investigate and provide support in response to this incident. Enquiries remain at an early stage and continue to progress including deployment of specialist cybercrime resources to support this response,” he added.

The Christmas Eve attack saw the environmental regulator experience a “significant systems outage” which affected its contact centre, phone lines, and email.

“Sadly we’re not the first and won’t be the last national organisation targeted by likely international crime groups. We’ve said that whilst for the time being we’ve lost access to most of our systems, including things as basic as our email system, what we haven’t lost is our twelve-hundred expert staff,” added A’Hearn.

SEPA’s regulated business and supply chain partners are able to access Police Scotland guidance and an enquiry form through a dedicated data loss support website, with a support line also available.

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