Warning of cybercrime proves prophetic

As Macmillan group publishers on both sides of the Atlantic work hard to get their systems back up and running after a cyber attack which affected operations at the end of June, the words of HarperCollins CEO Charlie Redmayne to the Bookseller’s Futurebook conference back in 2015 are proving prophetic.

“To do business today, whether we are big companies or small companies,” he told the conference, “we have to take [cybercrime] very seriously – and it requires both rigour and investment. I think many publishers are living in a rose-tinted world – assuming it will never happen to them – it will,” he said.

The attack on Macmillan left UK employees and distribution teams without email and access to other online systems. The attack involved “the encryption of certain files” on the publisher’s network and forced the company to take its systems offline as a security measure. It said in a statement on 1 July: “We are working diligently with specialists to investigate the source of this issue, understand its impact on our systems, and to restore full functionality to our networks as soon as possible.

“Customers and other third-party partners may notice that certain systems are unavailable while these efforts are underway. Please know that the Macmillan team is working around the clock on this restoration and installation of additional network safeguards.”

In 2021 the UK’s Rathbones Folio Prize lost £30,000 to an email fraudster, and in January of this year Filippo Bernadini, an Italian member of staff at Simon & Schuster UK, was arrested on his return to New York for allegedly attempting to steal manuscripts.

The Department of Justice said that Bernardini, who was working at the time as a rights co-ordinator at S&S UK, was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft “in connection with a multi-year scheme to impersonate individuals involved in the publishing industry in order to fraudulently obtain hundreds of pre-publication manuscripts of novels and other forthcoming books”.

Redmayne had this warning in his speech in 2015: “Every single day we are being attacked – from the most complex hacking attacks to Trojan viruses; and the wave upon wave of phishing emails – some ridiculous but some very clever – one mistake, one slip by a member of staff and they are in.”

His words have proved eerily prescient.