top of page

The British Library cyber hack: One of the worst cyber incidents in British history

If you've been following ransomware news or have an interest in the vast archives housed by the British Library, you might be familiar with the cyber attack it went through last year.  


Months have passed since the incident, yet the British Library is still trudging along the path to recovery. This cyber attack wasn't just a blow to one institution—it serves as a stark reminder of the ever-present threat of ransomware in today's world and highlights the importance of cyber security measures no matter what your business is. 


What happened during the cyber attack against the British Library? 

The British Library's ordeal began on October 28, 2023, when a member of its Technology Team found themselves locked out of the network. A subsequent forensic investigation revealed that the attackers had likely infiltrated the network at least three days prior to this. 


During the attack, cyber criminals managed to siphon off approximately 600GB of files, which included sensitive personal information of both staff and library users. Refusing to give in to the ransom demands that followed, the British Library found itself facing a double-edged sword—the stolen data was subsequently leaked on the dark web, while some of the library's servers were deliberately destroyed to obscure the attackers' trail. 


Despite the severity of the attack, the British Library's foresight in maintaining secure backups spared its digital collection from irreparable loss. Nevertheless, the aftermath has led to significant efforts to rebuild the library's infrastructure. 


What can we learn from the British Library cyber attack? 

The British Library's post-mortem report on the cyber attack highlights an essential lesson: even solid cyber defences can fall short against evolving threats. The notion that security measures alone suffice is debunked by the library's admission of aspects it wishes it had better understood or prioritised. The ever-changing nature of cyber attacks shows the need for constant vigilance and adaptation in defence strategies. In other words, cybersecurity should never be viewed as a simple tick box to check or a one-time thing. 


Additionally, the emphasis on infrastructure recovery over data restoration highlights just how important it is to have secure backups. Nowadays, digital assets are as vulnerable as physical ones, so the existence of failsafe measures like backups can be the difference between recovery and devastation. The parallels drawn to historical catastrophes, such as the burning of the Library of Alexandria, really show the gravity of this modern-day threat. 


How to spot a ransomware phishing email 

While the precise method of infiltration in the British Library attack remains undisclosed to the public, the incident serves as an important reminder of the dangers lurking in unsuspecting emails. Cyber criminals will often try to impersonate trusted sources to disseminate malware, banking on recipients' implicit trust. Vigilance is key—scrutinising sender details for discrepancies and resisting emotional prompts designed to instil urgency can help to thwart malicious intent. 


Recognising the psychological tactics used by cyber criminals, such as educing haste through false emergencies, empowers individuals to pause, evaluate, and double check the legitimacy of incoming communications. By building and encouraging a culture of cautious scepticism, individuals and organisations alike can help to ensure their defences remain as effective as possible against ransomware and other cyber threats. 


For a more detailed look at how to spot phishing attempts and spam emails, why not take a look at our other blogs: 






Need some extra help with your organisation’s cyber security? Contact us today to find out how we can help. 


The contents of this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others.  Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us.


The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this document. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

bottom of page