Friday, May 12, 2017

Statement From NHS Digital On UK Cyber Attack


The newswires are filled with reports on today's cyber attack on NHS (and other) facilities in the UK.  Attacks that have rendered some computers unusable, and are creating chaos in some hospitals across England.

Details on the impact can be found in the BBC report NHS in England hit by 'cyber-attack'.

Below you'll find the most recent statement from NHS Digital on this attack.  After which I'll have a bit more on our vulnerability to such attacks, and why you - and your business - should prepare.

A number of NHS organisations have reported to NHS Digital that they have been affected by a ransomware attack.

The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor.

This attack was not specifically targeted at the NHS and is affecting organisations from across a range of sectors.

At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.
NHS Digital is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Health and NHS England to support affected organisations and ensure patient safety is protected.

Our focus is on supporting organisations to manage the incident swiftly and decisively, but we will continue to communicate with NHS colleagues and will share more information as it becomes available.

Notes to editors

As at 15.30, 16 NHS organisations had reported that they were affected by this issue.
Ransomware attacks like this one are becoming increasingly common, and more sophisticated, and have hit businesses, agencies, and individuals around the globe.  One even pretends to be the FBI, locking up your computer for alleged `illegal online activity' until you pay a `fine'. 
Most of the time, paying the ransom will buy a key to unlock your data, but not always. Some hackers simply take the money and move on to the next fish.
And of course, paying the ransom only incentivizes hackers to continue to release, and upgrade, their extortion software.  But for some businesses, it is cheaper to pay up.  And so they do.

While particularly nasty, these ransomware attacks aren't normally targeted at a single entity.  Instead they are spread via email phishing tactics, often appearing as a link to a website you might want to visit.  
Click on it, and the next thing you see is a ransom screen, and your computer is locked up, tight as a drum.  Except for the countdown clock . . . .

With the right tools, skills - and a lot of time and luck - you might be able to remove it. But these programs are getting tougher to counter every year, and increasingly the odds are against you.

Ransomware isn't the only cyber threat. Last year, in FluTrackers & The Linode Cyber Attack, we looked at the impact of a dedicated denial of service attack on a major internet hosting company.  These attacks are becoming more frequent, and more sophisticated, and have the potential for crippling large segment of the internet for hours or even days. 
According to a 2015 report in ComputerWeekly (see Critical infrastructure commonly hit by destructive cyber attacks, survey reveals):

. . . .  that 53% of the respondents noticed an increase of attacks to their computer systems in 2014, and 76% stated that cyber attacks against infrastructure are getting more sophisticated.
Almost a third of the respondents were public entities, with communications, security and finance being the most heavily represented industries.

In The Lloyd’s Business Blackout Scenario, we looked at the impact of a prolonged grid down disaster that could be caused by solar flares, EMP, or a cyber-attack.   As we saw in the GridEx 2013 Preparedness Drill, our government is actively looking at ways to mitigate the risks. 
In the fall of 2015, well known journalist Ted Koppel published a book called Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, that explores this very scenario - one that outgoing DHS Secretary Napolitano warned about publicly in 2013.
Without electrical power, water and gasoline doesn’t pump, elevators and air conditioners don’t run, ATM machines and banks close, grocery stores can’t take debit or credit cards, and everything from cooking, to flushing toilets, becomes a major challenge.
While we worry that natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and solar storms could disrupt the power grid, banking & finance, or our communications system - sadly the threat of infrastructure failures from man made sources grows greater every year.
If your family or business emergency plan doesn't consider the very real threat of an extended power outage, you have some work to do.  A good starting place is to revisit an earlier blog called #NatlPrep: Instead Of Cursing The Darkness.

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