The personal cost of a ransomware attack on the NHS

By Anderona Cole

Waking up, wiping your eyes slowly in the morning is a ritual for many, but as each day passed in my late teens, the more I did it, the my more my world began to fade.

Aged 21, my optician noted that my discomfort was linked to the fact that the window of my eyes was, over time, becoming thinner. I was eventually diagnosed as having Keratoconus, an eye condition that can affect young people in their late teens or early twenties.

A few years later, having been referred to a world-class NHS eye hospital, I opted to go for two separate operations, one for each eye. However, as is the way with technology, it had improved between my two separate operations, such that whilst awaiting my first surgery, I was told to expect no improvement in vision after that said operation. However, when it came to my second eye, it was recommended that lasers, yes, lasers(!) would be incorporated in to the specialist eye procedure itself. We proceeded with that and as a result, there was a monumental change in my vision – and since my final treatment and I have never looked back (chortle, chortle).

My experience helped me to realise how crucial technological improvements significantly impact our quality of life. Further, it has also helped me to understand that technology can prove to be an overwhelming force for good, altering the course of many people’s lives, for the better.

The WannaCry ransomware attack that began on Friday 12th May had a particularly significant impact upon the NHS. Ransomware attacks have affected many organisations in the past, but this one felt very personal to me. NHS systems were paralysed by this invasive disablement. Health professionals had no choice other than to cancel operations. With people gowned-up waiting to go into the operating theatre, everyone’s day was affected, both financially as well as personally. That’s why we need to make sure this does not happen again.

The way that so many hospital trusts, almost 50, were brought to a standstill by this virus, just shouldn’t happen. I do not know the how’s and why’s of what happened, but I do know that we need to do something to help make sure that it does not happen again.

Steps are being taken to address this issue and its comforting to know that individual professionals, industry bodies, patient organisations, policymakers and other stakeholders are gathering together in a move to stave off any further threats completely as early as 2020.

Working for BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT means I have an opportunity to be part of the solution too. BCS is leading an initiative to improve cybersecurity within the NHS by bringing all these groups together. The result – a newly launched Blueprint for Cyber Security www.bcs.org/blueprint which calls for a collaborative approach. By tackling this issue head on, it seems as though we’ll be able to see a brighter future for the NHS, and that others, with other similar conditions to me and indeed much worse, will continue to reap the benefits of our wonderful NHS.

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1 Response

  1. In response to your comment “stave off any further threats completely as early as 2020” You will never be able to completely mitigate against ever evolving cyber threats. The WannaCry outbreak was due to using legacy operating systems throughout the NHS. As a start they should really adopt the governments Cyber Essentials scheme. Go to http://Www.sensical.net for more information.

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