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How safe is NHS data?

A recent report from cybersecurity experts eSentire entitled Industry Threat Report: Healthcare raises concerns regarding the susceptibility of healthcare data to opportunistic cyber-attacks.   Although the report focuses on the American healthcare system, the concerns raised are equally pertinent to all healthcare systems, including the NHS.

Healthcare is a very emotive subject and the fallout of any breaches of patient data has wide-ranging implications; politically, organisationally and financially. This makes healthcare data an attractive target, and the critical nature of the services provided places a lot of pressure on healthcare organisations to consider extortion demands.

Ransomware via phishing is now a common experience alongside other forms of cyber-attack, and therefore the report states that it is vital for healthcare organisations to have dedicated, on-site, cyber security experts to enable potential threats to be dealt with quickly and effectively without any disruption to the day to day running of services.


A 2017 report from KPMG, [1] demonstrates that in the US healthcare sector expenditure on cybersecurity is failing to rise in line with the increase in cyber threats.  This is particularly worrying as healthcare reliance on technology is increasing through the use of web portals, remote assistive technology, integrated care data-sharing requirements etc.  In addition to this, patients now have greater access to their own medical records.   All of these technological advances provide an environment which is open to cyber threats.

The report identified particular areas of vulnerability within the US healthcare system:

  • The use of single-factor authorization by many services which make them targets for Brute Force attacks in which a script methodically tries passwords until access is eventually achieved
  • Medical applications often transmit patient information in clear-text which is susceptible to MiTM (Man in The Middle) sniffing
  • The availability on the Dark Web of a variety of tools which actively scan the internet looking for common vulnerabilities


In order reduce the risk of cyber-attacks the authors make a list of recommendations:

  • Protect against opportunistic attacks by undertaking regular patch management
  • externally-facing servers should be strengthened
  • Use only professional-grade routers rather than consumer grade.
  • Raise staff awareness around phishing
  • Monitor critical servers for any signs of compromise
  • Implement 2-factor authentication, especially on critical, externally-facing services
  • Employ a chief security officer as part of a dedicated security team
  • Undertake a cyber security risk assessment when purchasing medical equipment
  • Create an information-sharing environment with cybersecurity professionals both nationally and internationally

To read the full report please click here

[1] KPMG. (2017). The Healthy Approach to Cyber Security. Delaware: KPGM LLP.