NHS Digital confirms malware variant hits 16 organisations

cybersecurity
“The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor. At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed. We will continue to work with affected organisations to confirm this,” said NHS Digital

Cyber attack reports initially surfaced on social media

[London, UK] NHS Digital has confirmed in a statement that 16 organisations reported they have been hit by a cyber attack as of 15:30 in the afternoon today.

“The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor. At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed. We will continue to work with affected organisations to confirm this.

“NHS Digital is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Health and NHS England to support affected organisations and to recommend appropriate mitigations,” they said in a statement published on their website.

The attack was reportedly not ‘targeted’ at NHS organisations, having an impact on a range of sectors; cyber attack reports on NHS hospitals across England initially surfaced in the afternoon on social media.

The hashtag ‘nhscyberattack’ is now trending on Twitter, while the BBC revealed the ‘large-scale’ incident was reported at hospitals in London, Blackburn, Nottingham, Cumbria and Hertfordshire.

GP practices have also been affected, with one Twitter user called Chris Maguire writing: "All shut down in Yorkshire-even in GP practice. Back to handwriting notes while seeing patients without full histories! #nhscyberattack.”

In a statement, NHS Blackpool CCG asked patients to avoid GP practices and A&E departments:

“We are aware of an IT issue affecting some NHS computer systems. Patients are asked for understanding whilst the issue is resolved. Please avoid contacting your GP practice unless absolutely necessary. Should you wish to obtain non-urgent medical advice please call 111.

“Please also only attend the Whitegate Drive Walk-In Centre, Fleetwood Same Day Health Centre and Blackpool Victoria A&E department if absolutely necessary. Your local pharmacy can also provide free and fast advice for non-urgent conditions.”

‘Cyber defence is essential’

Scott James, Head of Sales and Marketing at Internet Central, told BJ-HC: “Ransomware is one of many forms of computer malware that restricts access to your computer or its information, while demanding you pay a ransom to get access back.

"Cyber attacks are no longer the matter of spy movies but a clear and present threat; in this case, large quantities of sensitive data are being targeted.

"Cyber defence is essential, but it’s no longer enough; organisations of all sizes need to invest in detecting threats as well. Only then will cyber criminals be caught early enough to expel them from the network before serious damage is done."

‘Highly co-ordinated’ attack

Meanwhile, The Patients Association said the attack "appears to have been highly co-ordinated and aggressive," with reports revealing a police investigation is underway.

"However, that something of this sort could happen will surprise few people. It has long been known that the NHS struggles with IT in multiple respects, and that this includes serious security problems. Though today's may be the largest attack of this sort, it is not the first - yet the lessons from earlier incidents have not been learnt.

"The power of IT in transforming services for patients is undoubted, yet the NHS has struggled to harness it: centralised approaches have failed badly, while smaller scale local projects can easily give rise to huge variations in both quality and security.

"We are seeing today that IT security is critical to patient safety. Addressing it effectively and quickly is essential, and requires appropriate investment. In this election period, we must look to our political parties for leadership - now is not the time to be squeamish about the cost of keeping our NHS secure,” they added in a statement.

This story is currently being updated.