North Korea behind ‘WannaCry’ cyberattack on British hospitals – security minister

North Korea behind ‘WannaCry’ cyberattack on British hospitals – security minister
North Korean hackers are thought to be behind a cyberattack that brought down National Health Service (NHS) computers last May, leaving clinics in chaos. The ‘WannaCry’ ransomware demanded money to unlock medical records that it was holding hostage.

About 19,500 medical appointments – including 139 potential cancer referrals – were cancelled as a result of the attack, while hospitals had to reject ambulance arrivals when 81 health trusts across England were hit. The massive attack targeted more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries with the cyberattack.

Ransomware attacks occur when information is taken hostage and hackers demand money for its return. Often, money is taken but files remain lost forever.

At the time of the cyberattack, it was claimed that Kim Jong-un’s hermit state was behind the move, but it is only now that the government has confirmed this to be the case.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) on Friday revealed the government’s findings.

“This attack, we believe quite strongly that this came from a foreign state,” Security Minister Ben Wallace told the BBC’s Today program.

“We can be as sure as possible.

"I obviously can’t go into the detail of intelligence, but it is widely believed in the community and across a number of countries that North Korea had taken this role.”

The NAO report revealed that hospital trusts had failed to follow basic recommendations on cyber-security, leaving them wide open to the attack.

The UK trusts were mostly using a non-updated version of Windows 7. Sir Amyas Morse, NAO head, was fiercely critical of the NHS for failing to install updates.

“There are more sophisticated cyber threats out there than WannaCry, so the Department (of Health) and the NHS need to get their act together to ensure the NHS is better protected against future attacks,” he said.

Wallace believes a North Korean hacking group was responsible.

“We do have a counterattack capability,” he said.

“But let’s remember we are an open liberal democracy with a large reliance on IT systems. We will obviously have a different risk appetite. If you get into tit-for-tat there has to be serious consideration of the risk we would expose UK citizens to.”

However, Wallace blamed the trusts for failing to install updates.

“It’s a salient lesson for us all that all of us, from individuals to governments to large organizations, have a role to play in maintaining the security of our networks,” said the minister.

He added that the health service could not accept all the blame, however, as the UK is buffeted “every week” by “state-sponsored criminal” attacks, when other nations attempt to steal information.

“Other countries do have doctrines and military thinking along that line, but the West - the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom - are much more thoughtful about these things because, ultimately, if we were to take some action, we have to remember that some of these states may, as we have seen with this WannaCry, strike out at the rest of our functions,” Wallace said.