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Computer hackers have attacked Italy’s social security website, forcing it to shut down on Wednesday just as people were starting to apply for coronavirus benefits, the head of the welfare agency said.

Pasquale Tridico said his INPS agency had received some 339,000 applications for the 600 euro ($655) so far, but that hackers had compromised access to the site.

“In the last few days we have suffered several hacker attacks that produced a major breakdown,” Tridico told state broadcaster RAI. “They continued today and we had to close the website.”

The government has imposed a nationwide lockdown to try to contain an outbreak of coronavirus that has killed almost 12,500 people in under six weeks.

The restrictions have brought much of the Italian business world to a halt, wreaking havoc with many peoples’ livelihoods.

In an initial response to the economic crisis, self-employed or seasonal workers can apply to INPS for the special, 600 euro payout.

However, users trying to log onto the INPS site earlier on Wednesday reported severe disruption. Some said personal data of other people were displayed on their screens as they tried to complete their requests.

Tridico said he had told the police of the cyberattack, which has raised doubts about the security of Italy’s digital infrastructure as it struggles with the coronavirus emergency. He did not mention a data breach.

The ruling Democratic Party (PD) party said the national security services should be tasked with finding those behind the hacks. “These jackals must be stopped immediately,” said PD deputy leader Andrea Orlando.





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