interviews

25.07.17

How NHS organisations can protect themselves against cyber crime

Source: NHE Jul/Aug 2017

On 12 May, a global cyber-attack occurred on an unprecedented scale. It affected organisations across the globe and, though it did not specifically target the NHS, the impact on UK health services brought cyber security to the top of the national agenda. NHE’s David Stevenson gets an update from the NHS Digital Data Security Centre on what steps NHS organisations can take to protect themselves from cyber crime.

The response to the attack on 12 May was a co-ordinated effort between a number of government organisations including NHS Digital, the Department of Health, NHS England and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). 

The government is fully committed to defending against cyber threats and addressing the cyber skills gap to develop and grow talent. A five-year National Cyber Security Strategy was announced in November 2016, supported by £1.9bn of transformational investment. 

This joined-up approach was seen in practice during the attack, with these agencies offering close support for the NHS: alerting NHS organisations to known data and cyber security threats; advising them of appropriate steps to take to minimise these risks; resolving any issues as quickly as possible; and gathering feedback which can be used to further strengthen the response of the system and the ability to forewarn, forearm and respond. 

It isn’t just IT teams who have responsibilities regarding data and cyber security. It’s the responsibility of everyone in the NHS, or any organisation using IT systems and equipment, and there are plenty of ways to ensure a robust response to a cyber-security incident. 

What immediate steps can NHS organisations take? 

  1. Leadership is critical to ensuring data security is embedded across the organisation
  2. Invest in your people – across all disciplines, this isn’t simply a technology issue
  3. Get all staff to understand that data security has and will have an impact on citizen-facing services
  4. Prioritise the actions that make your biggest risks less likely to happen (for example, regular patching, getting rid of old operating systems)
  5. Prioritise the actions that make things less bad when risks do crystallise (for example, a regularly rehearsed incident management team, pre-agreed lines-to-take, alternative ways to deliver your service) 

To avoid becoming infected with ransomware and enable recovery, system users should ensure that: 

  • A robust programme of education and awareness training is delivered to users to ensure they don’t open attachments or follow links within unsolicited emails
  • All operating systems, antivirus and other security products are kept up to date
  • All day-to-day computer activities, such as email and internet, are performed using non-administrative accounts and that permissions are always assigned on the basis of least privilege
  • All critical data must be backed up, and these backups must be sufficiently protected/kept out of reach of ransomware
  • Multiple backups should be created including at least one off-network backup (e.g. to tape) 

What should you do if a suspected cyber-attack occurs? 

If you believe your systems have been attacked, contact your IT provider/help desk immediately. They should be the first point of contact and it is essential to seek their advice before taking any action that might affect your system. 

The NCSC was opened by the Queen in February and provides a useful central body for cyber security at a national level. It manages national cyber security incidents like these, carries out real-time threat analysis and provides tailored sectorial advice. 

The National Crime Agency encourages anyone who thinks they may have been subject to online fraud to contact Action Fraud at: www.actionfraud.police.uk. 

NHS Digital’s Data Security Centre offers advice and guidance to help health and social care organisations respond effectively and safely to cyber-security threats. To receive their regular high-severity alerts and security bulletins, email: carecert@nhsdigital.nhs.uk. 

How do we protect ourselves in the future? 

  • Ensure all systems are protected with the latest antivirus definitions
  • If your network becomes infected immediately report it to your antivirus provider for investigation and patching
  • Ensure your antivirus software is kept updated with the very latest security definitions, to detect current and evolving strains of this malware
  • Confirm with your antivirus provider that they have rolled out virus definitions which are supported by your organisation’s operating systems to protect you from the spread of this malware (especially if your organisation is running out of support operating systems)
  • Ensure your antivirus software is properly configured and automatically scans all files and file operations (including file reads, writes and renames) and manually run scans on critical areas such as servers and shared network file storage.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.digital.nhs.uk

W: www.ncsc.gov.uk

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