Months after cyberattack, British library crawls back online

The British Library on Monday began restoring its online catalog, which holds details of books, journals and music scores, the first step in its recovery from a brazen cyberattack in October, the library said.”For the first time since the attack, the majority of physical books, archives, maps and manuscripts held in the basements at our St. Pancras site will once again be discoverable and usable by our readers,” said Roly Keating, the British Library’s CEO, referring to the library’s building in central London.

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Accessing the items would be “slower and more manual” for users than before the cyberattack, he added in a statement published last week. A full recovery could take several more months. Other organizations that have experienced similar attacks have taken more than a year to reestablish operations, the library said.

A criminal group attacked Britain’s national library in late October, disrupting online systems, including email, and stealing data, which the group later tried to auction online, the library said. Keating apologized for not being able to protect some personal data belonging to users and staff members that was leaked in the attacks.

Cyberattacks targeting arts and cultural institutions are becoming more common. Late last year, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas were among the institutions that experienced outages after a cyberattack. The attack targeted a service provider, Gallery Systems, used by hundreds of cultural organizations to display their work online.

The Metropolitan Opera in 2022 was hobbled by a cyberattack that took its website offline and paralyzed its box office. Last year, a cyberattack was carried out on the Philadelphia Orchestra and its home venue, the Kimmel Center.

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Keating said that full recovery of the catalog would be a gradual process. For now, the outage is still affecting the British Library’s website, online services and some on-site services. The catalog will be searchable online, the library said, but the process for checking the availability of books as well as ordering them would be different until the system was fully restored. Researchers will need to visit the library, where more than 170 million items are held, in person to access offline versions of specialist catalogs, Keating said. The British Library’s collection includes two of the four surviving copies of Magna Carta, the world’s largest surviving collection of Chaucer manuscripts and five copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio.