British Library digital catalogue back online after ransomware attack 

Catalogue of 36m records can again be accessed today, for first time since major cyberattack in October – but chief executive Sir Roly Keating acknowledges there is still much work to be done.  

Months after the devastating ransomware attack carried out on the British Library by the Rhysida criminal gang, the digital catalogue and many other online services. 

The British Library in London

Photo by Steve Cadman

The library refused to pay the £600,000 ransom but a report in the Financial Times cites an unnamed source who suggests that it will cost 10 times this amount to rebuild digital services, consuming some 40% of the library’s £16.4m unallocated reserves. Procurement records show that the library paid £250,000 to cyber security provider NCC Group for an initial response to the attack.  

‘It won’t be in quite the form that long-standing users will be familiar with,’ warned chief executive Sir Roly Keating, in a blog post last week. ‘Most notably it will be “read-only”’ and ‘the process for checking availability and ordering them for to use in the Reading Rooms will be different’.  

Access is also available once more to most of the library’s special collections, including archives, manuscripts and other items – though, for the moment, doing so will involve consulting offline catalogues. Sir Roly warns that access to items across the library estate may be slower and more manual than before the attack. 

He also says that, ‘the broader programme of full technical rebuild and recovery from the attack will take time’, and identifies key milestones yet to come including, ‘restoring access to the full range of content held at our Boston Spa site, and also to those parts of our digital collections that are currently unavailable.’ 

The EThOS collection of 600,000+ doctoral theses was one of the digital systems affected. Another was the one used to manage the annual payment of Public Lending Right (PLR) earnings. Published authors, illustrators, editors, translators and audiobook narrators should receive remuneration for book loans from public libraries.  

Irish PLR statements and payments were delayed at the end of last year but are now being issued. UK PLR payments will also be delayed – it is hoped they will be made before the end of March. Further information will be shared on this matter before the end of this month. It is also not currently possible to register new titles on the PLR system, although the deadline for inclusion in 2025 payments is not until June 30, 2024 – so there is still time to get things working. 

As we reported, last month Sir Roly concluded that the British Library had been the victim of a wider ‘attack on knowledge’. 

He said: ‘Libraries, research and education institutions are being targeted, whether for monetary gain or out of sheer malice. Society more widely, and all of us as individuals need to be alert to this fast-evolving threat.’ 

In related news:

Opinion: Seven worst data breaches of 2023 

Cyber-security project for UK organisations 

Ransomware and national security – Parliament report 



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