UK vulnerable to ‘catastrophic’ ransomware attack, MPs warn

LONDON — MPs have warned that swathes of the United Kingdom’s critical national infrastructure are vulnerable to ransomware which the government is ill prepared to fend off.

In a report published Wednesday, the U.K. parliament’s joint committee on the national security strategy called for the Cabinet Office to take over responsibility for ransomware from the Home Office to better tackle the threat. 

“If the U.K. is to avoid being held hostage to fortune, it is vital that ransomware becomes a more pressing political priority, and that more resources are devoted to tackling this pernicious threat to the U.K.’s national security,” said Labour MP Margaret Beckett, who chairs the committee. The committee said the Home Office under former minister Suella Braverman had “showed no interest” in the issue.

The report warns the U.K. is unprepared for the “‘high risk’ of a catastrophic ransomware attack,” which could cause “severe disruption” to the delivery of core government services, including healthcare and child protection, and has the potential to “bring the country to a standstill.” In 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack disrupted the U.K.’s National Health Service’s IT systems, as well as scores of other organizations worldwide.

The report also calls on the Foreign Office to investigate legal sanctions against Russia, just over a week after the U.K. government accused the country of conducting a “sustained” cyberattack against MPs, peers, civil servants, journalists and NGOs in the U.K. in an attempt to “meddle in British politics.”