Ransomware Attacks (824_17)

Request

I am writing to you under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to request the answer to the following questions:

 

Have you suffered from a ransomware attack in the last year?

If so, how many?

If so, did you pay the ransom?

What level of employee was the target of the initial ransomware attack? Please respond with either junior, management or administrative.

Response

West Midlands Police can neither confirm nor deny that information is held relevant to your request as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemptions:

 

Section 23(5) Information supplied by or concerning certain Security Bodies

Section 24(2) National Security

Section 30(3) Investigations

Section 31(3) Law Enforcement

 

Section 23 is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest.

 

Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption which requires the public interest in the appropriate of neither confirming nor denying information is held to be considered.

 

With Sections 24 and 31 being prejudice based qualified exemptions, both evidence of harm and public interest considerations need to be articulated to the applicant.

 

Harm in Confirming or Denying that Information is held

 

Policing is an information-led activity, and information assurance (which includes information security) is fundamental to how the Police Service manages the challenges faced. In order to comply with statutory requirements the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice for Information Assurance has been put in place to ensure the delivery of core operational policing by providing appropriate and consistent protection for the information assets of member organisations, see below link:

 

https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/information-management/ <https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/information-management/>

 

To confirm or deny whether ransomware attacks have occurred would identify vulnerable computer systems and provide actual knowledge, or not, that these incidents have taken place within individual force areas.

 

In order to achieve this gaol, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place with other police forces and security bodies within the UK to support counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive terrorist networks of their ability to commit crime.

 

To confirm or deny specific details of any ransomware attacks would be extremely useful to those involved in terrorist activity as it would enable them to map vulnerable information security databases.

 

Public Interest Considerations

 

Section 24(2) National Security

 

Factors favour complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held

 

The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and how resources are distributed within an area of policing. To confirm where ransomware attacks have occurred would enable the general public to hold (force name) to account ensuring all such breaches are recorded and investigated appropriately. In the current financial climate of cuts and with the call for transparency of public spending this would enable improved public debate.

 

Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming or denying that information is held

 

Security measures are put in place to protect the community we serve. As evidenced within the harm to confirm where ransomware attacks have occurred would highlight to terrorists and individuals intent on carrying out criminal activity vulnerabilities within WMP.

 

Taking into account the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information (such as the citing of an exemption which confirms information pertinent to this request is held, or conversely, stating ‘no information is held’) which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed. To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that it will have an impact on a force’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.

 

Irrespective of what information is or isn’t held, the public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with what is placed into the public domain.

 

The cumulative effect of terrorists gathering information from various sources would be even more impactive when linked to other information gathered from various sources about terrorism. The more information disclosed over time will give a more detailed account of the tactical infrastructure of not only a force area but also the country as a whole.

 

Any incident that results from such a disclosure would, by default, affect National Security.

 

Section 30(3) Investigations

 

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held

 

Confirming or denying whether information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed general public by identifying that WMP robustly investigate ransomware attacks. This fact alone may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to assist with investigations and would also promote public trust in providing transparency and demonstrating openness and accountability into where the police are currently focusing their investigations.

 

The public are also entitled to know how public funds are spent, particularly in the current economic climate.

 

Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a)

 

Modern-day policing is intelligence leg and WMP share information with other law enforcement agencies as part of their investigation process. To confirm or not whether WMP has alerted other agencies of ransomware attacks could hinder the prevention and detection of crime as well as undermine the partnership approach to investigations and enforcement.

 

Should offenders take evasive action to avoid detection, police resources may well be diverted from frontline duties and other areas of policing in order to locate and apprehend these individuals. In addition, the safety of individuals and victims would also be compromised.

 

Section 31(3) Law Enforcement

 

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held

 

Confirming that information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed public which may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to reduce these attacks.

 

Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) neither confirming nor denying that information is held

 

Confirmation or denial that information is held in this case would suggest (force name) take their responsibility to protect information and information systems from unauthorised access, destruction, etc., dismissively and inappropriately.

 

Balancing Test

 

The points above highlight the merits of confirming or denying the requested information exists. The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protection the communities we serve. As part of that policing purpose, information is gathered which can be highly sensitive relating to high profile investigative activity.

 

Weakening the mechanisms used to monitor any type of criminal activity, and specifically terrorist activity would place the security of the country at an increased level of danger.

 

In order to comply with statutory requirements and to meet NPCC expectation of the Police Service with regard to the management of information security a national policy approved by the College of Policing titled National Policing Community Security Policy has been put in place. This policy has been constructed to ensure the delivery of core operational policing by providing appropriate and consistent protection for the information assets of member organisations. A copy of this can be found at the below link:

 

http://library.college.police.uk/docs/APP-Community-Security-Policy-2014.pdf

 

In addition anything that places that confidence at risk, no matter how generic, would undermine any trust or confidence individuals have in the Police Service. Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test favours neither confirming nor denying that information is held.

 

 

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