Watchdog examining ‘serious cybersecurity incident’ at FCDO

Department discloses that it was the target of an attack
Foreign Office's King Charles Street HQ. Photo: FCDO/CC BY 2.0

By Sam Trendall

10 Feb 2022

The Information Commissioner’s Office has indicated that is “making enquiries” into a “serious cybersecurity incident” in which the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was targeted.

Newly published procurement information reveals that the FCDO signed a contract with BAE Systems on 12 January; the deal covered the “provision of urgent business support” in light of the incident.

The contract-award notice indicates that the defence specialist was paid £467,325 to provide “technical architect support to analyse an authority cybersecurity incident”.

Further “deliverables cannot be disclosed… due to the nature of the incident”, according to the notice.

The deal was awarded, without any prior competition, to one of the department’s existing suppliers as it was a matter of “extreme urgency brought about by unforeseeable events”.

The notice added that the Foreign Office “was the target of a serious cybersecurity incident, details of which cannot be disclosed”.

“In response to this incident, urgent support was required to support remediation and investigation.

"The awarded supplier is the authority’s long-term incumbent service management integrator and, as such, had resources on site with significant knowledge and understanding of the authority’s infrastructure.

"Due to the urgency and criticality of the work, the authority was unable comply with the time limits for the open or restricted procedures or competitive procedures with negotiation.”

CSW sister title PublicTechnology asked the FCDO whether any data may have been breached as a result of the incident, and whether the ICO – the UK’s data-protection regulator – had been informed.

The department did not directly answer either question, but a spokesperson said: “We do not comment on security but have systems in place to detect and defend against potential cyber incidents.”

A report from the BBC claimed that unknown hackers were understood to have gained access to FCDO systems, but were detected without breaching any secret or sensitive data.

When news of the incident was first reported by The Stack, the tech publication said the ICO had indicated it had received no contact from the department about the cyber incident.

However, in a statement issued yesterday to PublicTechnology, a spokesperson for the regulator said: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office has made us aware of an incident and we are making enquiries.”

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared

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