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Spar stores forced to close following supply chain attack

The UK supermarket chain is working with the NCSC to investigate the incident

Spar convenience stores across the UK have either had to revert to cash-only payments or shut altogether following a cyber attack.

More than 300 stores across the North of England have been affected with point of sale devices taken offline, meaning the stores are unable to take card payments.

The attack is believed to have first hit James Hall & Company, a Lancashire-based wholesaler that services Spar UK stores, on Sunday. Its website is currently down with an Error 20, indicating a network failure.

The full extent of the attack is currently unclear but the company said the attack had affected all of its IT systems, including staff emails.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is currently investigating the attack and said: "We are aware of an issue affecting Spar stores and are working with partners to fully understand the incident."

A Spar spokesperson added: "We are working to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. It is currently impacting stores’ ability to process card payments meaning that a number of Spar stores are currently closed to shoppers or only taking cash payments.

"We apologise for the inconvenience this is causing our customers and we are working as quickly as possible to resolve the situation."

The nature of the attack is also currently unclear. Ransomware or not, the attack shows how quickly cyber criminals can infect a broad range of targets through a supply chain.

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"This looks like a supply chain attack at first glance," said Brian Higgins, security specialist at Comparitech. "It’s very difficult to ensure that every link in the chain has appropriate cyber security measures in place and it only takes one vulnerable point to allow criminals into a network. Once they’re in, the knock-on effects can be catastrophic.

"The timing might also be indicative of a planned attack as most retailers don’t run a full back-office service at weekends," he added. "I’m sure there will be a full investigation but it can often be counterproductive to speculate on motive etc. during an ongoing incident."

It's not the first time a European supermarket has been caught up in a supply chain attack this year. Sweden's Coop stores were all hit with REvil ransomware in July this year, as a consequence of the Kaseya breach

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