The British Library cyber-attack and how it affects University of York students and staff

News | Posted on Thursday 23 November 2023

Earlier in November the British Library (BL) experienced a cyber incident, which has meant a major technology outage which is still ongoing at the time of writing. This has implications for York staff and students who use BL services or have set up a British Library account in the past: please read on for important advice on what to do next.

The British Library in London

What has happened? 

The British Library have been victims of a ransomware attack which has caused a major technology outage. Although their buildings remain available, the outage is affecting their website (and in particular their catalogue), online systems and services, as well as some onsite services including their Reading Rooms and even their public wifi. The incident has already lasted a number of weeks and they anticipate that the disruption will last several more weeks before everything is fixed. 

If you use your British Library account password for anything else online, change it in all instances

The BL published a new update on 27 November, in which they say the following:

Having confirmed that this was a ransomware attack, we now have evidence that indicates the attackers might have copied some user data, and additional data appears to have been published on the dark web.

We will continue to work with cybersecurity specialists to examine what this material is and we will be contacting our users to advise them of the practical steps they may need to take.

As a precaution, we recommend that if you have a password for British Library services that you use for other websites or services, that you change it on those other accounts. The National Cyber Security Centre offers advice on staying secure online, including how to create a strong password, as well as specific guidance for individuals who may have been impacted by a data breach.

How all this impacts York services 

There are a few ways in which this is impacting our library. 

  • Interlending may be slower. Many of our Interlending requests are supplied by the BL but they cannot currently provide this service. As a result all the other libraries in the network are lending many more items to each other, and although we're all coping so far it may be that delays start to happen. 
  • EThOS is unavailable. The Electronic Theses Online Service, which contains over 250,000 digitised theses from across the UK, is currently down, and we don't yet know when it will available again. 
  • Our minibus service to the British Library's Boston Spa branch is on hold. User accounts are currently limited and some services, such as requests via the catalogue, are unavailable. As soon as access is available we'll reinstate the minibus service, but this looks likely to be some time in December at the earliest.

Other tips for finding BL content 

Our colleagues at the Bodleian Libraries have written a useful blogpost on work-arounds to finding British Library resources online

Keep up to date as the situation develops 

We're sorry to anyone who is being inconvenienced by this cyber attack, and will answer any questions we can if you'd like to get in touch.

Contact the library