IOTW: UK convenience stores closed by cyber attack

UK convenience store chain Spar confirmed an online attack to its IT systems on 6 December which has affected a number of its stores across the north of England.

The attack targeted the James Hall & Co Ltd distribution company which supplies a number of Spar locations in the north of England. Spar made the announcement on 6 December noting that the attack had occurred over the prior 24 hours.

The cyber attack resulted in a number of Spar shops being forced to close as the IT failure resulted in stores being unable to take card payments or use their stock control and accounting systems.

UK news outlets have reported that the attack has affected around 330 Spar stores.

One store shared on social media that it had been forced to close with “no time set to be back online” following up with a reply to one customer that they store was “still down” on 6 December and had “gone old school with a pen and calculator”.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released a statement saying: “We are aware of an issue affecting Spar stores and are working with partners to fully understand the incident.”

Lancashire Police are also reported to be part of the investigation into the attack.

As of 9 December, the website of James Hall & Co remains offline.

Supermarkets at risk

Supermarkets, convenience stores and retailers are a target for cyber criminals because of the vast amount of IT systems used for transactions, stock control and accounting processes.

It has been reported that the Spar/James Hall & Co attack involved ransomware, but no update has been provided as to whether a ransom has been paid.

In a similar attack in mid-2021 Swedish supermarket Coop was forced to close due to a cyber attack involving ransomware. The attack hit a software company called Kaseya and spread through the networks of those using the software.

In October 2021, one of the UK’s largest supermarkets, Tesco, was hit by an attempted attack which left customers unable to access the website and app. In this instance the attack was detected and did not impact customer data.

Supermarkets have been warned to be mindful of the security their own systems, third-party systems and the systems of their suppliers.

In its Retail Outlook 2021, PWC noted: “With human-operated ransomware attacks now one of the top priority cyber threats facing organizations, consumer-facing businesses must know how to defend against these new types of risk.”

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