Saturday 13 May 2017 / 9:43 AM 2017 Press Archive / The Latest from Labour

Labour calls for action over NHS cyber-attack

Jonathan
Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has today written to Jeremy Hunt
condemning “the cyber criminals whose flagrant disregard for our health service
has placed patient wellbeing at risk”.

Jonathan
Ashworth said:

“The
incident highlights the risk to data security within our modern health service
and reinforces the need for cyber security to be at the heart of government
planning.

“As
Secretary of State, I urge you to publicly outline the immediate steps you’ll
be taking to significantly improve cyber security in our NHS. The public has a
right to know exactly what the Government will do to ensure that such an attack
is never repeated again.”

The
letter from Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, calls on the Government to set
out:

·        
Why
NHS organisations failed to act on a critical note from Microsoft two months
ago?

·        
What
additional resources are being given to the NHS to bring the situation under
control as soon as possible?

·        
What
arrangements are currently in place to protect our NHS, and its sensitive data,
against cyber-attacks?

·        
Whether
the Government will launch a full, independent inquiry into the events of
yesterday?

·        
Reassurance
for patients that no patient data has been accessed or compromised in
yesterday’s attack?

Ends

Notes
to editors:

·        
Please see below for full text of the letter:

Dear
Secretary of State,

I am
writing to ask for urgent clarification regarding yesterday’s major ransomware
attack on our NHS. I hope you’ll join me in condemning the actions of the cyber
criminals whose flagrant disregard for our health service has placed patient
wellbeing at risk.

As you
know, the attack has had a serious impact on services, with some hospitals
diverting emergency ambulances and cancelling elective operations. A large
range of IT services have been affected, including pathology test results,
x-ray imaging systems, phone and bleep systems, and patient administration
systems.

In total
more than a third of NHS Trusts have been impacted, and NHS England has
consequently declared a Major Incident. This is terrible news and a real worry
for vulnerable patients and our hardworking staff.

The
incident highlights the risk to data security within our modern health service
and reinforces the need for cyber security to be at the heart of government
planning.

As
Secretary of State, I therefore urge you to publicly outline the immediate
steps you’ll be taking to significantly improve cyber security in our NHS. The
public has a right to know exactly what the Government will do to ensure that
such an attack is never repeated again.

However,
this is not the first time NHS Trusts have been attacked. In February, Freedom
of Information Requests found that 79 English Trusts, more than 33 per cent,
had suffered ransomware attacks since June 2015.[1]

For
example, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust was attacked 19 times in 2016,
and the Leeds Teaching Hospital faced five attacks in the past year.[2] In November, a major ransomware
attack on the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Trust affected three hospitals,
forcing the cancellation of hundreds of routine operations and outpatient
appointments.[3]

As
recently as in January, the largest NHS Trust in England, Barts Health Trust,
was infected with a ransomware virus affecting thousands of sensitive files.[4]

I am
therefore extremely concerned that extensive warning signs appear to have been
ignored by yourself and your department.

Moreover,
your own colleague Ben Gummer, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, warned in
October that “large quantities of sensitive data” held by the NHS and the
Government were being targeted by hackers, with the potential for significant
disruption.[5]

Speaking
about the threat to the health service, Mr Gummer stated: “The Government has a
clear responsibility to ensure its own systems are cyber secure. We hold and
the rest of the public sector- including the NHS- hold large quantities of
sensitive data and provide online services relied on by the whole country.”[6]

Furthermore,
in March a joint report from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the
National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that cyber-criminals could increasingly lock
computers, phones and watches to run cyber extortion and blackmail rackets.

At the
time, Ian Levy, technical director of the NCSC, warned that the best defence
against ransomware was to ensure software on devices was up to date.[7]

However,
it appears that many of those hospitals affected by yesterday’s attack had not
updated their Windows operating systems to include a security patch. This
unacceptable cybersecurity neglect has clearly made the NHS extremely
vulnerable to an attack.

NHS
Trusts have been running thousands of outdated and unsupported Windows XP
machines despite the Government ending its annual £5.5 million deal with
Microsoft, which provided ongoing security support for Windows XP, in May 2015.[8]

It
effectively means that unless individual Trusts were willing to pay Microsoft
for an extended support deal, since May 2015 their Operating Systems have been
extremely vulnerable to being hacked.

Given
your Government’s sustained underfunding of our NHS it is of little surprise
that many Trusts have reported taking minimum action. Indeed, research through
previous FOIs has found that at least seven NHS Trusts, which treat more than
two million Britons, spent nothing at all on cyber security infrastructure in
2015.[9]

This is
extremely serious and as Shadow Secretary of State of Health I share the
public’s concern at these revelations.

Yesterday’s
attack is unprecedented in scale, but it is abundantly clear that our NHS
should have been better prepared for ransomware attacks.

Therefore,
will you firstly explain why NHS organisations failed to act on a critical note
from Microsoft two months ago?

Secondly,
what additional resources are you giving the NHS to bring the situation under
control as soon as possible?

Moreover,
will you clarify publicly what arrangements are currently in place to protect
our NHS, and its sensitive data, against cyber-attacks? Will you ensure that
every single NHS organisation receives an on-site assessment from CareCERT to
improve security?

Will you
additionally launch a full, independent inquiry into the events of yesterday?

Finally,
will you reassure patients that no patient data has been accessed or
compromised in yesterday’s attack?

Secretary
of State, the prevalence and sophistication of cyber-attacks on our NHS is only
set to increase. I therefore urge you to take immediate action so that a crisis
on this scale is never repeated again.

Yours
sincerely,

Jonathan
Ashworth

Shadow
Secretary of State for Health

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/e96924f0-3722-11e7-99bd-13beb0903fa3

[2] https://www.ft.com/content/b9abf11e-e945-11e6-967b-c88452263daf

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/b9abf11e-e945-11e6-967b-c88452263daf

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/13/largest-nhs-trust-hit-cyber-attack/

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/31/nhs-at-risk-of-cyber-attacks-minister-says-as-he-warns-hackers-a/

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/31/nhs-at-risk-of-cyber-attacks-minister-says-as-he-warns-hackers-a/

[7] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/14/smartphones-tvs-watches-could-held-ransom-hackers-cyber-security/

[8] http://www.silicon.co.uk/security/nhs-hospitals-data-risk-outdated-windows-xp-201761

[9] https://www.ft.com/content/b9abf11e-e945-11e6-967b-c88452263daf