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Why the NHS needs to seek a state of sustainable cyber resilience

The UK national infrastructure is particularly susceptible to cyberattacks. Critical organisations – such as hospitals, powerplants and water services – are high-profile, attractive targets to those seeking to breach their cybersecurity and who therefore must become resilient to attacks that can have massively damaging and ongoing effects. The health sector – the NHS in particular – is tempting prey for hackers who are after the vast amounts of sensitive data that can be extremely valuable, being used for the likes of identity theft and to take advantage of expensive medical services. But the health sector is a way behind in being resilient to such threats.

WannaCry highlighted NHS vulnerabilities

The 2017 WannaCry attack was a massive wake-up call for the NHS which was vastly unprepared to protect itself and the huge amount of valuable data on its books. There was no long-term solution in place on how to combat such incidents and a significant amount of vulnerable technology in use. Along with suffering a £92 million fallout cost, issues of accountability and effectiveness of its IT management were also brought into question.

Whilst some lessons have been learned and solutions put in place, such as a new package deal with Microsoft, supposedly worth £200 million, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to make the NHS cyber resilient, especially as every one of the 200 NHS trusts assessed for cybersecurity vulnerabilities last year failed to meet the standards required. As cyberattacks continue to rise in number and grow ever more sophisticated, this resilience is particularly vital.

Cyber resilience is key

The NHS will always be one step behind hackers if it continues to implement a reactive, purely threat-oriented approach to IT security. Instead, looking towards a proactive strategy to thwart cyberattacks before they happen, namely through sustainable cyber resilience, is the key to future-proofing. Whilst establishing sustainable cyber resilience in the health sector may seem and can be challenging – a range of technology and regulations causing security gaps and inadequacies – it is achievable through a continuous resilience process that identifies vulnerabilities in good time.

Managing vulnerabilities is an essential component of sustainable resilience. This process involves identifying, classifying, prioritising and remediating the critical vulnerabilities in an IT infrastructure and acting on them swiftly, where business functions are endangered. This tactic strengthens a provider’s ability to resist attacks and enables it to continue to function during an attack. To achieve this, it is essential to reduce the number of targets available to hackers, resulting in a more stable foundation. This means identifying vulnerabilities that hackers could take advantage of early on.

The NHS and the UK health sector in general need to look towards a pre-emptive and preventative approach to cybersecurity through securing a sustainable and resilient cyber foundation that will enable them to be one step ahead of attacks at all times.

By: Dirk Schrader, Cyber resilience architect at Greenbone Networks

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