‘Ransomware’ attack hits National Records of Scotland

General Register House on Princes Street. Picture: Sandy Young
General Register House on Princes Street. Picture: Sandy Young
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A COMPUTER virus has stopped public access to details of births, deaths, marriages and census archives at the National Records of Scotland.

The “ransomware” programme has hit the ScotlandsPeople Centre – the nation’s largest family history archive – at New Register House.

Cyber security experts said that any data which was lost could be used for identity fraud.

Professor Bill Buchanan, cybercrime expert at Edinburgh Napier University’s school of computing, said: “There are many risks involved with leakages of data from public sector records, including giving away details around next-of-kin, and other things which could be used either to create a fake identity or to discover things which could be used to reset passwords.”

Researchers from Fraser and Fraser, who work on BBC1’s Heir Hunters television series, said they didn’t know when they would be able to access the records.

A Scottish Government spokesman admitted there were technical issues, but said that the website was still available.

However, it offers only a very limited service and does not include requests such as birth certificates for the past 100 years.

A regular user of the centre said the problem began last Wednesday with “intermittent” glitches.

The user said: “A member of the public opened an e-mail on one of the terminals in one of the search rooms which may have caused a virus.

“This is certainly unprecedented in all the years I’ve been coming here.”

The incident is the latest in a series of major IT breakdowns to hit the Scottish 
Government.

Earlier this month a new £178 million computer system administering Common Agricultural Policy payments to Scotland’s farmers failed.

And last November a new computer system for logging staff working hours was 
withdrawn due to major technical problems.

Neil Findlay, Labour candidate for Almond Valley and Lothian, said: “Here we have yet another case of a major Scottish IT project going wrong.

“But this is not just a concern about the bureaucracy of an IT system. Vast amounts of personal data which may be in the wrong hands could be used for questionable purposes.”

A National Records of Scotland spokeswoman said: “Our ScotlandsPeople search rooms are closed on March 30 and 31 because of technical problems. Other search rooms and online services including the ScotlandsPeople website remain available as normal.

“Updates are available on our website: www.nrscotland.gov.uk.”

shan.ross@jpress.co.uk