Critical NHS cyber security checks suspended due to coronavirus response

A padlock against a golden background to represent cyber security

NHS Trusts have been granted a six-month delay to completing crucial cyber security resilience checks while resources are rechanneled into handling the coronavirus outbreak.

The health service's recently established digital transformation body NHSX has given organisations a reprieve to complete their annual cyber security checklists so it doesn’t interfere with the healthcare service's COVID-19 response plans.

Health and care organisations are expected to submit a data security and protection toolkit (DSPT) each year to ensure their systems and databases are hack-proof. It’s especially important given how frequent attacks against healthcare organisations have become.

DSPTs were originally meant to be completed by the end of the month, but organisations now have until 30 September 2020 to complete their DSPT checklists. They are, however, welcome to complete these beforehand, at which point they’ll be awarded ‘Standards Met’ status as normal.

This has given organisations the space to commit additional resources to clinical response to coronavirus, and away from completing the checklist, if need-be.

“It is critically important that the NHS and Social Care remains resilient to cyber attacks during this period of COVID-19 response,” NHSX has told health and care organisations.

“Whilst the DSPT submission deadline is being relaxed to account for COVID-19, the cyber security risk remains high. All organisations must continue to maintain their patching regimes.”

The cyber threat facing the NHS, and other organisations, has never been greater. Any attacks launched against Trusts over the next few months, in the mould of the infamous WannaCry attack of 2017 for instance, could result in significant patient harm with services and systems already stretched.

Hackers have already started exploiting the outbreak to further their malicious aims, according to Reuters, with attackers posing as the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in order to launch phishing attempts, for instance.

Two of the most widely-used trojans against healthcare organisations in 2019 were Emotet and TrickBot. All eyes will be on cyber attackers over the next few months, to determine whether or not they’ll continue to launch attacks against healthcare organisations struggling to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.