McNeil: Health is the most hacked data system in the world now

“Yes, it is an issue, but it is something that we can deal with,” Keith McNeil, NHS CCIO, told delegates at Confed17 in regards to the global rise in cyber threats

Digital leaders referenced the WannaCry attack during both days of the NHS Confederation annual conference in Liverpool

[Liverpool, UK] In accordance with current reports, NHS CCIO Keith McNeil said yesterday health is the ‘most hacked’ data system in the world at the moment.

During a session at Confed17 in Liverpool, McNeil touched upon the increasing value of health records on the black market, adding that cyber attacks are now thought to be imminent, similar to NHS Digital Interim CEO’s comments yesterday, Rob Shaw, at the same event.

“People can say ‘if it happens again’. I think you’ve got to accept the fact it’s when it happens again (…),” Shaw explained.

McNeil, however, took a more optimistic view in regards to the cyber threat rise: “Yes, it is an issue, but it is something that we can deal with.”

On 12 May, the WannaCry ransomware attack infiltrated several NHS computer systems, leading to delays in provision of services, with Barts Health NHS Trust or Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust being some of the organisations that experienced severe disruption in operations.

Today, the BBC reported an international investigation conducted by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre found that a group of hackers from North Korea, called Lazarus, launched the attack, also involved in a high-profile incident three years ago after targeting Sony Pictures.

Involving CIOs and CCIOs at board level

Beverley Bryant, NHS Digital’s outgoing Director of Digital Transformation, also told delegates at Confed17 the recent attack ‘shone a light’ on the need to involve CIOs and CCIOs at board level to ‘improve awareness’ and prevent further damage.

In his presentation, McNeil explained that information is key to addressing ‘huge challenges facing the sector’, including matching resources with an increasing demand in ‘one of the most complex environments on the planet’.

“When we have the right information and the right knowledge from that information, we can start to understand that complexity,” the CCIO added.

Comparing data to ‘crude oil’, McNeil, who is also the Chair of the National Information Board, emphasised their programmes of work focus on automating collection of data to extract knowledge, although acknowledged this would include a ‘level of sophistication in the IT system’.

McNeil added: “Why is IT important? We need IT to handle the enormous amount of data that we’re putting together.

“We’ve got to embrace it, it’s not about technology, it’s about how you use technology to mine the data, to aggregate it, to analyse it and then to spread the knowledge so that we can actually improve outcomes for people and improve decision-making across the NHS.”