Freedom of Information request shows cyber assault on healthcare sector
47% of NHS trusts in England have been hit by ransomware in the past year, according to data from a freedom of information (FOI) request.
The request was made by global risk mitigation and cyber security expert, NCC Group, and 60 trusts responded, with 31 withholding information citing patient confidentiality.
However, 28 confirmed they had indeed been a victim of ransomware. Only one trust said it had not been hit in the last year, but that it had been infected in the past.
Ransomware is a type of malware that restricts access to systems in some way, often by encrypting files and then demanding a ransom to obtain access.
With NHS trusts holding a range of sensitive data on patients and employees, a piece of ransomware could cause serious disruption to services and, ultimately, impact patient care.
Ollie Whitehouse, technical director at NCC Group, said: “The damage that a successful ransomware attack can cause makes these findings not simply an issue for a trust’s IT team, but for its board of directors too.
“Paying the ransom – which isn’t something we would advise – can cost significant sums of money, yet losing patient data would be a nightmare scenario for an NHS trust.
“In the past the ransomware writers were sometimes quite careless and there was often a way to retrieve files.
“However, they have improved their capabilities and data retrieval is usually no longer an option. It makes preparation even more important.”
Many ransomware attacks are delivered via phishing emails. These are often well crafted and disguised to resemble something non-malicious to fool the recipient.
Phishing emails often take the form of parcel delivery notifications, imaginary customer complaints, or fake official letters.
Whitehouse said: “There is no silver bullet or one single solution that can stop this type of attack, despite what many security companies may claim.
“Instead, we would recommend a multi-layered approach, applying robust controls such as regular patching of software, using up-to-date anti-virus and educating staff as to the risks posed by phishing and ransomware.”