CHESHIRE East’s head of ICT has warned the cyber threat to the council is ‘absolutely real’ and added there has been a huge increase in activity recently from Russia.

Gareth Pawlett was giving members of the corporate policy committee an update on Thursday about cyber security and what the council was doing to increase awareness, protection and recovery.

"The cyber threat is absolutely real, and is becoming more widespread," said Mr Pawlett, referring to a report where other local authorities had been crippled by attackers in the past.

“At the time when we wrote the report it was all about the cyber threat that Russia was applying to the Ukraine but we all know that has gone further now.

“But clearly that is an issue for us. We have increased the vigilance around our monitoring and making sure that, where we are seeing increased activity from Russia on our own network and data centre, that we're making sure that we are monitoring that and doing the things that we need to do to protect the systems that we have.”

The council has been working with the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on its cyber risk plan and has just been awarded £150,000.

Mr Pawlett said there had been three cyber attacks over the past two or three years – two in Cheshire East and one for Cheshire West. All took the form of ransomware.

“Because of the protections that we've put in place we’ve been able to limit those,” he said.

The council’s ICT services boss also said there had been a ‘huge increase’ in activity from Russia.

“We are seeing ping activities. That is where computers from Russia are actually just sending out pings to organisations to see what they get back, they're looking for weaknesses,” he said.

“We've see a huge increase in that activity over the last few weeks and we continue to monitor that.”

Knutsford Guardian:

Cllr Sam Corcoran

Council leader Sam Corcoran said the report to the committee was very timely ‘given the worrying developments in Russia and Ukraine’.

He added: “I would stress, we all have an important role to play to protect our cyber security against attacks.”