Public services across the Na h-Eileanan Siar – the Outer Hebrides – in Scotland continue to be disrupted following a suspected ransomware attack on the IT systems of the local council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Writing on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, a spokesperson for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: “Access to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s IT system has been affected by an incident which has caused significant disruption.
“Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is engaging with Police Scotland, Scottish Government and the National Cyber Security Centre [NCSC] 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.”
Council chief executive Malcolm Burr told the BBC the organisation had been the victim of a “criminal attack on our IT system”. He noted that the council’s systems come under attack from around the world on a near-daily basis. “You would be surprised by the number of attempts that our firewall repulses,” he said.
Fergal Lyons, cyber security evangelist at Centripetal, commented: “Mr Burr commented specifically about the number of attempts that his firewall repulses each day – I think he would be equally surprised by how many attempts get through his firewall. Even the most powerful firewalls are limited in their ability to stay up to date with new threat sources and block them effectively.
Fergal Lyons, Centripetal
“To be effective at mitigating threats, we need to understand where the attacks are coming from, by using all available threat intelligence to fend off attacks before they penetrate clearly vulnerable networks,” said Lyons.
He added: “The scourge of ransomware continues to grow both in scale and in impact across the industry. The most common vectors for … attacks [are] via email and fake websites where employees unknowingly – and perhaps carelessly – open the door allowing hackers to enter. User education is critical, but so is effective blocking of known bad domains and IP addresses at a network level.”
At the time of writing, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s website remains inaccessible from a public internet connection, but the council stated it has restored access to its email services and is working to redirect phone numbers for core public-facing services. Its out-of-hours service is operating normally.
The council has provided a list of temporary contact details for residents to access social care services, which can be found here.
Comprising over 75 islands, more than 50 of which are uninhabited, Na h-Eileanan Siar is home to approximately 27,000 people – over 50% of them Gaelic speakers as of 2001 – the largest town being Stornoway on Lewis and Harris.
The archipelago stretches over 100 miles from north to south, and has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with the first known written reference to its existence coming courtesy of ancient Roman writer and naturalist Pliny the Elder.
Along with the Orkney and Shetland islands and the Isle of Man, Na h-Eileanan Siar came under Norse control for many centuries, before being ceded to the Kingdom of Scotland in the 13th century.
More recently, they were subjected to great cruelty by the British government during the Highland Clearances, which saw many people leave the islands for North America, in particular Canada.
Today, the islands’ economy centres on tourism, fishing and farming, and there are still over 900 active crofters. However, with an ageing population and many young people leaving the remote islands in search of more opportunities, the council’s services have come to be of vital importance.