North Korea behind 'WannaCry' cyberattack on British hospitals - security minister

The NHS and Department of Health could easily have prevented the Wanna Cry virus attack a National Audit Office inquiry has found
Credit Andrew Crowley

The NHS and Department of Health could easily have prevented the Wanna Cry virus attack a National Audit Office inquiry has found Credit Andrew Crowley

Mr Wallace spoke after the National Audit Office published a scathing report yesterday, which reported that the cyber attack had affected computers at 81 English health trusts plus almost 600 GP surgeries, stating that the cyber attack could have been prevented if "basic IT security" measures to update protections had been taken.

More than 300,000 computers in 150 countries were infected with the WannaCry "ransomware", which demanded money for an unlock code.

The NAO's probe, release today, found that nearly 19,500 medical appointments, including 139 potential cancer referrals, were estimated to have been cancelled, with five hospitals having to divert ambulances away after being locked out of computers on May 12.

The report said NHS trusts had not acted on critical alerts from NHS Digital and a warning from the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office in 2014 to patch or migrate away from vulnerable older software.

"It was a relatively unsophisticated attack and could have been prevented by the NHS following basic IT security best practice".

NHS Digital does not believe any patient data was affected or stolen.

"Before 12 May 2017, the Department had no formal mechanism for assessing whether NHS organisations had complied with its advice and guidance".

Researchers said that the attack led to disruption in over a third (34%) of trusts and caused around 19,000 appointments to be cancelled.

UK GDP growth pips expectations
In year-on-year terms, third-quarter growth was unchanged at 1.5%, also slightly stronger than analysts had expected. While services grew by 1%, construction contracted by 0.7%.

The NAO chief said the Department of Health and the NHS must now "get their act together".

The DH had been warned about the risks of cyber-attack to the NHS a year before trusts were hit by hackers in May, but did not formally respond with a written report until a full month later in July. "However, the NAO said, the Department of Health "does not know" how many NHS organisations could not access records or receive information, because they shared data or systems with an infected trust".

But Meg Hillier, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "The NHS could have fended off this attack if it had taken simple steps to protect its computers and medical equipment".

The lack of a rehearsal for an attack meant "it was not immediately clear who should lead the response and there were problems with communications".

Infected organisations had unpatched, or unsupported Windows operating systems making them susceptible to the ransomware, which spread with the help of a leaked computer exploit from the National Security Agency (NSA).

Communication was also hard in the early stages of the attack as many local organisations could not communicate with national NHS bodies by email as they had been infected by WannaCry or had shut down their email systems as a precaution.

"Tried and tested emergency plans were activated quickly and our hard-working NHS staff went the extra mile to provide patient care, keeping the impact on NHS services and patients to a minimum".

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