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NHS inks three-year cybersecurity partnership with IBM

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NHS Digital has entered into a three-year strategic partnership with IBM to provide a range of new and improved services to health and care organisations.

The additional services will expand NHS Digital’s existing Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC)3 and enhance NHS Digital’s current capability to monitor, detect and respond to a variety of security risks and threats across the NHS, and offer expert advice and guidance.

The CSOC expands on the existing cyber security services provided by NHS Digital and will include:

  • Enhanced services, such as vulnerability scanning and malware analysis, allowing NHS Digital to offer tailored and specialist advice to individual NHS organisations
  • Enhancement of NHS Digitals current monitoring capability enabling the analyses of data from multiple sources to detect threats across NHS Digital’s national systems and services
  • Access to IBM’s X-Force repository of threat intelligence to provide insight, guidance, and advice so health and care organisations can take appropriate action to prepare for, or mitigate against, identified risks and threats.
  • Security monitoring pilots across selected NHS organisations, to test a range of security technologies and identify appropriate solutions that could be rolled out across the NHS estate.
  • An innovation service which will allow NHS Digital to quickly access new tools technologies and expertise to address new threats as they emerge and to allow it to adapt services to meet the changing needs of the health and care sector.

Dan Taylor, Programme Director, Data Security Centre at NHS Digital, said: “This partnership will enhance our existing Cyber Security Operations Centre which is delivered from NHS Digital’s Data Security Centre. It will give us, during times of increased need, the ability to draw on a pool of dedicated professionals from IBM.

“It will build on our existing ability to proactively monitor for security threats, risks, and emerging vulnerabilities, while supporting the development of new services for the future and enabling us to better support the existing needs of local organisations. This will ensure that we can evolve our security capability in line with the evolving cyber threat landscape.

Rob Sedman, Director of Security, IBM UK and Ireland said: “IBM is excited to partner with NHS Digital and bring enhanced detection and incident response co-ordination capabilities to its Data Security Centre.”

Scottish Government outlines cyber security plans

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The Scottish government has outlined its cyber strategy in a 48-page document – The Public Sector Action Plan on Cyber Resilience.

 The plan offers details to local authorities, Government departments and NHS boards on best practices for protecting themselves against cyber attacks. The Scottish Government fast-tracked the strategy in wake of the global cyber attack in May when 11 Scottish health boards were targeted by hackers.

 Discussing the plan, First Minister John Swinney said it would “encourage all public bodies, large or small, to achieve common standards of cyber resilience,” before adding: “I want our public sector to lead by example on strengthening cyber security, to help ensure Scotland is ready to deal with all emerging threats.”

 Some £200,000 is to be made available for organisations to assess, identify and improve cyber security issues, while ministers will also write to chief executives of Scottish public bodies to urge them to ensure all firewalls and security procedures are up-to-date with companies in public service chains asked to demonstrate how they have protected themselves.

 Colin Slater, head of cyber security at PwC in Scotland said: “To date we’ve been reacting to cyber security using frameworks that are almost 30 years old. That’s not representative of the risk we’re dealing with these days.

 “During that attack NHS trusts couldn’t take appointments, they couldn’t do imaging, they couldn’t prescribe drugs, couldn’t admit patients. The ultimate consequence is that you can’t deliver your public service.

 “Cyber criminals are brilliantly tooled up, they’re very dogged, they’re very very clever and they’re very fast and agile.”

 Dr Keith Nicholson, joint chair of the National Cyber Resilience leaders’ board’s public sector steering group, said by following the plan “Scotland’s public sector will be better protected against cyber attacks to the benefit of both the organisation and the citizens of Scotland.”

NHS Digital signs cyber security contract with Microsoft

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NHS Digital has signed a support contract with Microsoft, three months after the WannaCry ransomeware attacks that targeted Windows computers.

The attacks on the NHS highlighted the need for investment, lack of infrastructure and the need for training among NHS staff, along with the fact that the NHS relies on Windows XP, an obsolete operating system that raised questions about the resilience of the service’s IT systems.

The Government recently announced it would boost investment in NHS data and cyber security above the £50 million outlined in the Spending Review, addressing key structural weaknesses as part of its commitment to improve NHS cyber security, with an initial £21 million delivered to increase cyber security at major trauma sites as a priority, along with  improvement of NHS Digital’s national monitoring and response capabilities.

The support contract with Microsoft will cover all NHS organisations throughout the UK until June 2018 and provide a “centralised, managed and coordinated framework for the detection of malicious cyber activity through its enterprise threat detection software.”

A statement by the NHS added that the service “analyses intelligence and aims to reduce the likelihood and impact of security breaches or malware infection across the NHS.”

“One of NHS Digital’s key roles is to work closely with other national partners to explore and provide additional layers of cyber security support to NHS organisations when they need it – with the aim of minimising disruption to NHS services and patients,” the statement concluded.

NHS faces staff retention crisis

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Figures released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council have revealed that more nurses and midwives are leaving the profession than joining, up to 51% in a four year period.

Low pay, poor working conditions, long hours and a shortage of qualified staff are all blamed for the decision to leave.

For the first time ever, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) figures show that more have left the register than joined during 2016/17.

With over 40,000 nursing vacancies in England, the RCN and Royal College Of Midwives (RCM) have called on the Government to scrap the pay cap to help halt the loss of talent.

In an interview with Sky News, Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “This goes beyond the concerns over Brexit – worrying though they are.

“The reduction in numbers is most pronounced among UK registrants. And it is particularly disappointing to see so many of our younger nurses and midwives choosing to leave.”

Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “With more people leaving than joining, the NHS will be further than ever from filling the 40,000 vacant nurse jobs in England alone.

“The 1% cap means nursing staff can no longer afford to stay in the profession and scrapping student funding means people can no longer afford to join it.”

NHS left vulnerable to cyber attacks

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Experts from the British Computer Society (BCS) & The Chartered Institute for IT have claimed that a lack of investment in cyber-security software and accountability left the NHS open to the Wannacry virus.

The malware disrupted hospital staff across the UK in May as computers systems crashed, leaving frontline hospital staff unable to access important patient information, with operations cancelled and doctors and nurses forced to rely on hand-written notes to track patient’s case histories and treatments.

A report into the attack by the BCS found that the crisis could have been avoided had hospital IT teams had an official cyber-attack protocol, in-house cyber-security experts and up-to-date secure software.

‘’Patients should be able to trust that hospital computer systems are as solid as the first-class doctors and nurses that make our NHS the envy of the world,” said David Evans, director of community & policy at The Chartered Institute.

“Unfortunately, without the necessary IT professionals, proper investment and training the damage caused by the Wannacry ransomware virus was an inevitability, but with the roadmap we are releasing today, will make it less likely that such an attack will have the same impact in the future.”

The Chartered Institute of IT has joined forces with the Patient’s Association, the Royal College of Nursing, Microsoft to produce a blueprint that outlines steps NHS trusts should take to avoid another crippling cyber-attack.

Top of the list is ensuring there are clearly laid-out standards for accrediting relevant IT professionals. NHS board are being urged to ensure they understand their responsibilities, how to make use of registered cyber security experts and increase the number of qualified and registered IT professionals.