Local Government Transformation: Gloucester City Council Cyber Attack

Eloise Smith
February 29, 2024

In December 2021, Gloucester City Council (GCC) faced a major challenge: a sophisticated cyber attack that encrypted their servers and disrupted critical services. This blog delves into the incident, exploring its impact, the council's response, and the valuable lessons learned. 


Understanding the Attack 

The attack utilised a spear phishing email, a targeted email containing malicious software that tricked recipients into clicking a malicious link or downloading an attachment. This initial breach allowed attackers to gain access to the council's network and deploy ransomware, encrypting data and demanding payment for its release. 

Impact on Services 

The attack had a significant impact on various council services, including: 

  • Benefits payments: Delays in crucial support for vulnerable residents. 
  • Planning applications: Disruptions in the application and approval process. 
  • Electoral services: Concerns about the integrity of future elections. 

The Road to Recovery 

Instead of paying the ransom and potentially compromising security, the council opted for a full system rebuild. This approach ensured a more secure system but resulted in a longer recovery timeline, lasting up to 12 months for some services. Additionally, the council migrated most applications to the cloud, enhancing their resilience against future attacks. 

Key Takeaways 

This case study offers valuable insights for organisations of all sizes: 

  • Invest in Staff Training: While training can't prevent every attack, it can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to social engineering tactics like phishing emails. 
  • Prioritise Network Security: Implementing network segmentation and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems can help isolate breaches and minimise damage. 
  • Embrace Cloud Solutions: Cloud-based systems often offer superior security and disaster recovery capabilities compared to on-premise servers. 
  • Regularly Update Plans: Regularly reviewing and updating business continuity plans ensures your organisation is prepared to respond effectively to a cyber incident. 
  • Learn from Others: Sharing experiences and collaborating with other organisations can provide valuable knowledge and support in the face of cyber threats. 

The Cost of Cybercrime

The estimated cost of the Gloucester City Council attack, including recovery and lost productivity, exceeds £1.1 million. This case highlights the immense financial impact cybercrime can have on organisations. 

Local Government

The Gloucester City Council cyber attack sheds light on several vulnerabilities and areas for improvement within local government.

  1. Reliance on Legacy Systems: Many local authorities rely on outdated infrastructure and IT systems, making them more susceptible to cyberattacks. Modernising infrastructure and migrating services to the cloud, as Gloucester did in their recovery, can enhance security and resilience.
  2. Importance of Staff Training: The attack originated from a phishing email, highlighting the crucial role of staff awareness training in preventing social engineering tactics. Regular training can equip employees to identify and avoid suspicious emails, attachments, and other online threats.
  3. Funding Challenges: Local governments often face budget constraints, which can limit their ability to invest in robust cybersecurity measures, staff training, and disaster recovery planning. Increased funding and resource allocation are crucial for local authorities to effectively address these challenges.
  4. Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: The case study emphasises the value of collaboration and knowledge sharing between local governments. Sharing best practices, lessons learned, and incident response strategies can significantly improve collective preparedness and response to cyber threats.
  5. Need for Robust Recovery Plans: The lengthy recovery process demonstrates the importance of having well-defined and regularly updated business continuity plans. These plans should outline clear steps for responding to various incidents, minimising disruptions, and ensuring a swift and efficient recovery.

Overall, the Gloucester City Council incident serves as a cautionary tale for local governments, highlighting the need for stronger cybersecurity measures, increased awareness, and collaborative efforts to effectively combat cyber threats and ensure the continued delivery of essential services to their communities.