CYBER criminals are increasing the threat to Southend Council in the hunt for personal information and bank records.

New figures revealed the number of attacks rose by a whopping 500 per cent.

In 2018 there were 54 attacks compared to ten the previous year. Between 2012 and 2016 there were just four in total.

Southend Council is responding by upping security.

The authority has been spending £22,269 per year, which has so far been suffice, but this will rapidly increase to hopefully offset the threat level.

A spokesman for the council said: “There is a capital investment in 2019-20 of £179,000 to provide additional defences, analyse and monitor the council’s IT security profile.

“In addition to this direct financial investment, the council is providing both web-based training and cyber workshops for staff.

“This investment is key as often simple precautionary working practices and procedures can protect and defend where technology can’t.”

The spokesman added the number of attacks are growing nationally and internationally, but the council is also now closely monitoring other public sector attacks.

Ed Geraghty, a technologist at campaign group Privacy International, said: “Whether it’s the education of our children or the cleaning of our streets, councils play a central role in our day-to-day lives.

“In order to provide services, councils must necessarily collect and store a large amount of data about the people they represent.

“In light of this, a successful attack against a council could be devastating - whether it be a malware attack stopping the provision of services or a hack leading to the release of data, these are some of the most sensitive areas of our lives; where we live, where our kids go to school.

“Whilst it should be celebrated that they report no data breaches to date, passive attacks such as phishing or scanning for vulnerable devices on the wider internet are only becoming more relentless and it is important that councils do not neglect basic security practices.

“These include regular patching of software to try and remove vulnerabilities, antivirus scanners on email, and firewalls to try and stop the spread of malware.”

Cyber attacks have become a growing problem around the world and the risks they pose were seen in 2017 when the NHS was a victim of a major attack that crippled hospital systems and left staff having to use pen and paper.

A similar attack hit the US state of Baltimore earlier this year when hackers seized control of government computers and locked the city out of their systems, demanding a ransom.

It is believed that in both cases computers were vulnerable due to the authorities failing to upgrade computer systems and hackers were using tools stolen from America’s National Security Agency that exploits weaknesses in Microsoft Windows.

The council spokesman added: “Where possible we do patch and upgrade our systems, but we avoid disclosing detail.”