Ok, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon here, but only because it’s an important thing to address. But let the record show, I feel like I’ve been writing way too much about high profile cyber security breaches recently. The recent ransomware attack on the NHS has stirred up quite a lot of press coverage and concern among the public. It’s also sparked many people and business owners to go back to their systems and make sure they are all up to date with the right security – so in a way the NHS attack has spawned some good things. But, you know, also it’s a pretty nasty thing to happen to one of our countries greatest institutions. So let’s look at what happened, and why.
We’ve talked a bit before about ransomware (if you haven’t read about it yet have a look at my posts, what exactly is malware and new strain of ransomware threatens business users), but now it’s time to get nice and specific. Broadly speaking, ransomware is a nasty type of malware that locks up your computer at random, preventing you from using it or accessing any of your files. You will get a window pop up demanding payment in exchange for your files, or worse threatening to publish them online if you don’t pay within their time frame. This ransom can be anywhere from £100 to £5000 (and higher), and even if you do pay it there is no guarantee you won’t be locked out again when you next reboot. This malware can get onto your system in a number of different ways, from backdoor viruses to opening an email and letting it in yourself, and usually the only way to fully remove it is to get a professional in and restore your systems from backups.
On the 13th of May, NHS services across England and Scotland were hit by one of the largest scale cyber attacks they have ever seen, which disrupted hospital and GP appointments everywhere. Over 40 practices were hit, leaving them unable to access patient data and facing notices demanding money for access – a £230 a terminal. Operations were cancelled, ambulances were diverted and patients in some departments turned away as doctors could not treat them without records. In short, it was chaos. The National Cyber Security Centre worked around the clock to bring the systems back online after this untargeted attack, with most being restored after a day. It was later found out that our NHS was just one casualty in an attack that hit over 100 countries with the same unique strain of malware known as ‘WannaCrypt’, which was developed using code stolen from the National Security Agency in the US. The malware exploited a vulnerability in the Windows operating system – a vulnerability that has been patched in March of this year, but left machines that hadn’t been updated vulnerable to attack. According to research data, nearly all NHS trusts were using an obsolete version of Windows that was no longer eligible for security updates, leaving the systems very vulnerable to attack. It just goes to show, security patching and updates really can save lives.
Yes! In fact, last year showed that ransomware attacks on businesses had risen almost 50%, becoming the second biggest cause of data breach in business after human error. Since they realised how unprotective small business owners were of their core sensitive data, hackers have actually been designing malware to specifically target smaller businesses. The NHS attack might have been on a large-scale organisation, but from what I have seen it has served as a fantastic wake up call for business owners across the country. And yes, this particular strain of ransomware could equally affect businesses, along with strains like Chimera and other business specific malware infections.
The problem is, addressing cyber security problems within the NHS now is a bit like calling the fire department after the fire has put itself out. It’s still an important thing to do, but the damage has already been done. What business owners need to learn from this is that you shouldn’t be waiting for a breach to shore up your systems. You should be stepping back and testing that your business systems are airtight, and if they aren’t – do something about it! For more information or advice about installing firewalls, anti-virus and other IT security protocols in your business, get in touch with me today.