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Cyber attack on Scottish Environment Protection Agency costs taxpayer £800,000

© Shutterstock / wk1003mikeFraudsters have become so convincing that growing numbers of young people are now being reeled in by the sophisticated scams
Fraudsters have become so convincing that growing numbers of young people are now being reeled in by the sophisticated scams.

A major cyber attack suspected to be linked to Russia has cost Scotland’s environmental watchdog almost £800,000.

Hackers managed to pinch more than 4,000 digital files belonging to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) on Christmas Eve. A ransom was demanded by the criminals but Sepa refused to pay and the files were published online.

Terry A’Hearn, Sepa’s chief executive, said: “It was clear once we worked with other partners that the right thing to do was not to pay the ransom.

“That had some implications, but I just think the idea of using public money to pay the criminals a ransom is not an easy thing to do.”

Police Scotland said international serious and organised crime gangs were likely to be behind the hack.

Analysis by Israeli cyber intelligence firm Kela found the attack was carried out by ransomware group Conti which may be controlled by hacking entity Wizard Spider, which in turn has alleged links to Russian organised crime.

Figures released to BBC Scotland under freedom of information laws show £790,000 has been spent on Sepa’s response and recovery actions so far.

This includes £458,000 on stabilising the watchdog’s business IT platform.

The majority of the watchdog’s key services, including flooding forecasts, have now been restored but it will be next April before there is a full recovery from the cyber attack.

Meanwhile, a cyber attack in the US has targeted around 300 universities, government institutions and private companies.