Computer virus wreaks havoc at Cheltenham Borough Council
A COMPUTER virus which wreaked havoc with Cheltenham Borough Council prevented people from paying their council tax online, it has been revealed.
The authority had no other choice but to switch off all its IT systems after a persistent virus attacked last month.
As a result, taxpayers couldn't pay bills online for a three-day period in earlier this month when systems were down.
Direct debits were unaffected by the virus and special arrangements were made for benefit payments.
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The virus was first identified on October 31 and by November 5 "strange shortcuts" had started to appear on council computers.
However, the council's anti-virus software didn't pick up that anything was wrong but by November 7 the authority realised it was under attack.
New anti-virus software was installed, quickly identifying "numerous new viruses".
A massive scan of all the council's data was then undertaken. It took more than 30 hours to complete.
The council was only declared as being completely virus free on Monday this week but the origin of the virus is still unclear.
After it was found, internet access was switched off to prevent data loss and banks were contacted to monitor for any "unusual activity" but none was recorded with all systems declared "safe and secure" during the attack.
Mark Sheldon, the council's resources chief, told a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee that the authority had taken "immediate action to secure data and there were no breaches".
However the IT woes caused significant inconvenience during the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
The council was forced to put in place back up communications with the polling hub in Stroud and was only able to verify the identity of 88 per cent of postal ballots. The authority is legally required to check 20 per cent, but was hoping to check 100 per cent.
Councillor Andrew Wall (Battledown, C) said: "I am concerned about the knock-on effect of this on future budgets because anti-virus measures are expensive.
"Also, what are the reputational damages that Cheltenham Borough Council has suffered. We have invested a lot of money in this and it doesn't look like something that has paid us back sufficiently."
The council will undertake an internal report analysing what went wrong during the attack and the suitability of the authority's current anti-virus measures. The findings will be considered at the next cabinet.
The council had previously assessed the risk of such a virus attack as 'low'.