German district blocked by hackers, declares 'cyber-catastrophe'

A district council in eastern Germany has declared a disaster after its computer systems were paralysed by a hacker attack in what the federal cybersecurity watchdog confirmed was the country's first-ever "cyber-catastrophe", Reuters reported.

Hackers knocked out the IT operations of the municipality of Anhalt-Bitterfeld, Saxony-Anhalt, on Tuesday, a spokesperson confirmed on Saturday. "We are almost completely paralysed," the spokesperson said, adding its offices would probably remain offline next week and giving no indication of when services would resume.

The municipality declined comment on the identity of the attacker or whether they had made a ransom demand, citing a police investigation. Security sources say German local governments often run outdated and poorly maintained software systems that could be wide open to cyberattack.

The rural district of Anhalt-Bitterfeld, with a population of 157,000, is for the time being unable to pay out welfare benefits. Its consequent catastrophe declaration is a formal step that allows it to call for federal help. Germany's BSI cybersecurity agency said it had sent a crisis team to Anhalt-Bitterfeld. A spokesperson said that, although other local authorities had been the victim of cyberattacks, none had declared a catastrophe as a result.

The cyberattack is the latest in a series of incidents targeting public infrastructure, including the recent takedown of the US Colonial Pipeline, while extortionists have also targeted widely-used IT applications with ransomware attacks.

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