The Spanish employment agency has been struck by a major ransomware attack, knocking out hundreds of offices around the country at a time when the pandemic had already put tremendous strain on the department.
A note on the website of SEPE 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 being done with the objective of restoring priority services as soon as possible, among which is the portal of the State Public Employment Service and then gradually other services to citizens, companies, benefit and employment offices,” it said.
SEPE confirmed that the attack would not affect access to unemployment benefits, but it has extended the deadline for applicants for as long as the service is down.
Although the payroll system is said not to be affected, face-to-face appointments have had to be cancelled around the country, as the attack has knocked out workstations in 710 SEPE offices and the laptops of remote workers, according to trade union CSIF. It claimed the agency had been “paralyzed” 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 subsequent days, with the difficulties that all this entails in the face of the avalanche of files that SEPE has been facing since the start of the pandemic,” it argued.
“We have been asking for decisive support in technological investment for months, since computer applications and systems have an average age of about 30 years.”
SEPE workers are currently being forced to process requests manually and take contact details down in case follow-ups are needed.
Nominet government cybersecurity expert, Steve Forbes, 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 pull together to ensure they can benefit from intelligence and resilience built into an overarching strategy for cyber defense.”