Cyber attacks are becoming a ‘major threat’ to Halton Council, with it now ‘at the mercy’ of criminal gangs and foreign government-backed hacker groups.

Those are the claims in a report to the borough’s ruling executive board, which is recommended to rubber-stamp a new cyber defence system this week.

The board will be asked to back spending £638k on a new managed detection and response (MDR) system, which is designed to identify cyber threats and deal with them.

The council’s digital team has weighed up eight possible cloud-based systems and settled on one which will now be implemented if the board approves.

Councils have come under increasing cyber attack in recent years, with a 50 per cent rise nationwide last year. Neighbouring Sefton Council was reported to be fending off 30,000 cyber attacks a month.

In 2021, Russian-backed hackers were thought to be behind an attack on Gloucester City Council, disrupting services such as benefit payments, planning applications and house sale. Councillors were also blocked from external emails. Gloucester had to rebuild its servers with an estimated cost of almost £800k.

A report to the executive board, said: "Within Halton Council our technology assets and our data assets live in an ever-changing world were the opportunity for criminal activity is increasing on a daily basis.  In reality at a rate that is starting to become a major threat to the operation and sustainability of the authority. We are now at the mercy of many attack vectors from individuals and criminal gangs through to foreign government backed agencies."

The money will cover a five year period and come from the council’s capital budget, which is ring-fenced for spending on infrastructure projects rather than running costs of the council. The contract will include technology, training for staff as well as access to external expertise.

But the report warned the new system can not guarantee the council will not suffer the consequences of a future attack.

It added: "It must be noted that purchasing this contract is not a magic pill and that we would never be subject to any attack, but this will considerably mitigate the potential for attack and improve our security stance."