Media reports over the last 24 hours have revealed that members of NHS staff have inadvertently triggered the cybersecurity defences of Google while utilising its search engine.
NHS Digital has confirmed the rumours, with the organisation noting that the vast number of NHS staff using the search engine resulted in healthcare workers being forced to take a quiz to verify that they are not bots.
In the meantime, NHS staff have been informed to use the Bing search engine as an alternative workaround.
Responding to the slightly embarrassing issue, Google reported that its systems are designed to spot unusual traffic, and have worked as intended.
But there is no doubt that the search engine giant will be concerned about the problem, and will hope to rectify as soon as possible.
Detecting suspicious traffic from a singular network can help defeat potential cyber-attacks, such as attempts to try to overwhelm a website.
But there is no way that Google would wish to dissuade hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers from using its search engine on a regular basis.
Google has not been guilty of deliberately stigmatising NHS traffic, according to investigations by the BBC, but this will nonetheless will be considered an inconvenience for healthcare staff.
Responding to the report, a Google spokeswoman suggested that everything was working perfectly at Google’s end.
“Our systems are simply checking that searches are being carried out by humans and not by robots in order to keep web users safe. Once a user has filled out the Captcha [security check], they can continue to use Google as normal.”
The NHS is not only one of the largest employers in England, but in fact one of the biggest in the world, with more than one-million people working within the healthcare services at any given time.
This helps to explain that the volume of Google searches that can be generated, and why the search engine has ultimately become suspicious.
An email sent by an NHS system administrator suggested the number of staff using the search engine was “causing Google to think it is suffering from a cyber-attack”.
NHS Digital released a statement on the matter, indicating that the NHS and Google are currently negotiating over the matter.
“We are aware of the current issue concerning NHS IP addresses which occasionally results in users being directed to a simple verification form when accessing Google. We are currently in discussion with Google as to how we can help them to resolve the issue.”
The issue will be particularly embarrassing for both parties considering the increasingly collaborative working relationship between the two.