Ransomware “paralyzes” the Spanish employment agency

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Spain’s employment agency has been hit by a major ransomware attack, destroying hundreds of offices across the country at a time when the pandemic had already strained the department.

A note on SEPE’s website explained that a “security incident” had affected the availability of its ITC systems and that work had been carried out to isolate and mitigate its impact.

“Currently, work is underway with the aim of restoring priority services as soon as possible, including the portal of the State Public Employment Service and then gradually other services for citizens, businesses, benefits and employment”, It said.

The SEPE confirmed that the attack would not affect access to unemployment benefits, but it extended the deadline for applicants while the service is down.

Although the payroll system was not affected, face-to-face appointments had to be canceled across the country as the attack destroyed workstations in 710 SEPE offices and workers’ laptops at distance, according to the CSIF union. He claimed the agency had been “crippled” by the attack.

“This situation has caused a delay in the management of hundreds of thousands of appointments throughout Spain, which will add to the workload of the following days, with the difficulties that all this entails in the face of the avalanche of files with which the SEPE has been confronted since the start of the pandemic”, he argued.

“We have been asking for decisive support in technology investment for months, because applications and IT systems are on average around 30 years old.”

SEPE workers are currently forced to process requests manually and note down contact details in case follow-ups are needed.

Nominet government cybersecurity expert Steve Forbes has argued that a new approach is needed to secure public sector infrastructure.

“Often these organizations are relatively small and under-resourced,” he added. “We must come together to ensure they can benefit from the intelligence and resilience built into a comprehensive cyber defense strategy.”

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