A government minister has suggested that the NHS is at risk from cyber attacks.
Ben Gummer, minister for Cabinet, suggests that “large quantities of sensitive data” held by the NHS is already being targeted by so-called ‘black hat’ hackers.
And Gummer believes that cyber attackers could even work with foreign powers in order to undermine public services in the UK.
The UK government has indicated that it will invest nearly £2 billion on toughening up Britain’s cyber defences, but experts question whether this is enough.
“No longer the stuff of spy thrillers and action movies, cyber attacks are a reality and they are happening now. Our adversaries are varied: organised criminal groups, ‘hactivists’, untrained teenagers and foreign states. Attacks can cause economic damage, erode public trust in online services and by enabling fraud do real harm to individuals, their property and their privacy,” Gummer commented.
The minister also cited a recent overseas cyber attack as evidence that attacks from foreign states could be an issue for the UK.
“The Ukrainian attack shows the potential for the most worrying scenario: cyber attacks by sophisticated actors designed to disrupt essential services, like energy, water and transport networks.”
Gummer also suggested that health service systems are particularly vulnerable.
“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.”
And the health minister also believes that the general public must play a role in ensuring that the UK is protected from cyber attacks.
“We as citizens also need to take basic steps to protect ourselves, by using strong, memorable passwords and keeping software on our computers updated. These practices need to become second nature, like putting on a seatbelt or locking the front door,” he says.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged that Britain will “strike back” if the nation comes under cyber attacks from hackers and foreign powers.
Speaking at a major IT conference, Hammond outlined his plans for the beefing up of British security.
“Britain is already an acknowledged global leader in cyber security thanks to our investment of over £860m in the last Parliament, but we must now keep up with the scale and pace of the threats we face. Our new strategy, underpinned by £1.9 billion of support over five years and excellent partnerships with industry and academia, will allow us to take even greater steps to defend ourselves in cyberspace and to strike back when we are attacked.”
Hammond was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in July, following the appointment of Theresa May.