Parcels and letters stuck in limbo as Royal Mail is hit by a suspected hack


Wed, 11 January 2023 at 9:02 pm GMT

More than half a million parcels and letters are stuck in limbo after Royal Mail’s international division was hit by a suspected cyber attack.

The items are piling up in warehouses after a crucial computer system used to send them abroad was paralysed.

It has triggered an investigation by police and the spy agency GCHQ as staff scramble to fix the damage.

The chaos comes after months of strikes that have already created huge backlogs of mail across the country.

Customers who have already posted items destined for overseas addresses have been told to expect delays until further notice following the hack, with Royal Mail urging everyone else not to post new items while disruption continues.

The company normally exports hundreds of thousands of parcels per day but has now ground to a halt after what was described as a “cyber incident”.

It is understood the suspected attack crippled software used to generate customs labels for outgoing post. One source said the problem had rendered some automated machines in the company’s sorting centres effectively useless.

The incident emerged on the same day a separate IT glitch grounded flights across the US, although officials said that was not thought to have been caused by hackers.

Royal Mail confirmed it was being assisted by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) a division of GCHQ, and police officers at the National Crime Agency (NCA), to determine the cause of the cyber incident, which was first detected on Tuesday morning.

Royal Mail chaos strikes hack cyber attack incident post mail letters parcels - Tom Wren, SWNS
Royal Mail chaos strikes hack cyber attack incident post mail letters parcels – Tom Wren, SWNS

Six sites were affected on Wednesday, including the company’s huge sorting centre near Heathrow Airport, where most outgoing international mail is sent before leaving the UK.

The company posted 74 million parcels abroad in the six months to the end of September, according to its most recent financial results, or an average of 400,000 per day. It is not known how many items were posted over the two days affected by the hack.

Royal Mail, which is considered part of Britain’s critical national infrastructure, gave no indication of when it expects normal services to resume. But experts warned the disruption could potentially drag on for weeks.

A Royal Mail spokesman said: “We have asked customers temporarily to stop submitting any export items into the network while we work hard to resolve the issue.

“Some customers may experience delay or disruption to items already shipped for export.

“Our import operations continue to perform a full service with some minor delays.

“Our teams are working around the clock to resolve this disruption and we will update customers as soon as we have more information.”

The spokesman said the cyber incident had crippled the “international despatch documentation system”, which produces customs labels for outgoing international mail.

A spokesman for the NCSC said: “We are aware of an incident affecting Royal Mail and are working with the company, alongside the National Crime Agency, to fully understand the impact.”

Royal Mail warehouse - Paul Cooper, The Telegraph
Royal Mail warehouse – Paul Cooper, The Telegraph

Cyber security experts warned that the damage to Royal Mail’s computer system looked extensive.

Jake Moore, an expert at software business ESET, said: “After multiple strikes and labour shortages, this attack will have come at one of the worst possible times for the postal service.

“The attack seems to have severely impacted their systems, and it could take weeks for things to return to the way they were before the incident.”

Royal Mail customers had already been experiencing delays following a wave of strikes that left the postal service grappling with huge backlogs.

Some customers were already complaining that it was taking weeks for their tracked parcels to be dispatched from the Heathrow sorting centre.

Sheila Valecha, said she sent an international letter to India on December 9 but had received no updates after it was “bagged” at the facility.

Meanwhile, another customer said an item they had posted more than 40 days ago was still at the centre and another said that they had posted two packages to Thailand before the strike action – with both still at Heathrow .

“Will it ever leave the UK this year?,” he asked Royal Mail on Twitter.

Customers whose packages have been tracked to Langley told the Telegraph they had not been contacted by Royal Mail directly about the cyber incident.

Although Royal Mail delivers domestic post for the British Forces Post Office, mail to Ministry of Defence personnel overseas is not thought to be affected as it is taken directly by military plane to bases abroad.

Published by anthonyhayble

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