Hospitals across England are preparing for a weekend of chaos because of Tory cuts and a dangerous weapon developed by the US.
A shock cyber-attack, using “ransomware” software, has blocked access to computer files at over 40 NHS organisations. It means key services are not working, and documents such as patient records made unavailable in England and Scotland.
Malicious hackers are demanding money to decrypt the computers..
This was part of a global attack affecting organisations from FedEx to the Russian central bank.
Who has been affected?
Health workers were unable to do routine jobs and patients were sent home as operations were cancelled. Doctors and nurses could not access data such as blood test results, and appointment bookings and X rays were down.
Theresa May has tried to deflect blame by pointing out it’s “part of a wider international attack”.
But this takes place in the context of Tory cuts. As Gareth, a clerk working in the health service, told Socialist Worker, “Everything is on a knife edge in the NHS—and that’s because services are being run down.
“The Tories always talk about how they’re only making cuts to ‘back-room staff, as if ‘front line’ and ‘back room’ staff don’t work together.
“In my hospital there are hardly any IT safeguards because of the cuts they have made.”
In November 2016 the average amount being spent by trusts on cyber security was £23,403. Seven trusts were found not to spend anything on cyber security, with many others not being able to identify how much they spent.
Why was the NHS left open to attack?
Tory minister Ben Gummer warned last November that “large quantities of sensitive data” within the NHS were at risk.
Wrapped in a virtual Union Jack, Gummer postured about Britain’s need to bolster its defences in the face of new threats. “The government has a clear responsibility to ensure its own systems are cyber secure,” he said.
But the Government Digital Service (GDS), set up by David Cameron, had already refused to renew a £5.5 million support deal for Windows XP in 2015.
Gummer, a junior health minister under Cameron, is now in charge of the GDS.
The Tories knew the risks of not renewing the deal with Microsoft.
The Cabinet Office and Department of Health wrote to NHS bosses in April 2014. It read, “It is imperative your organisation understands the risk placed on it should the decision be not to take out a new deal.”
Barts Health NHS Trust in east London, the largest trust in Britain, suffered a “ransomware” attack this January.
North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trusts had to shut down its IT system in October 2016 after suffering an attack. It took place few days before Gummer’s speech on bolstering Britain’s cyber defences.
Who is behind the attack?
Right wingers and paranoid liberals quickly blamed Russia, claiming this cyber attack was further proof of president Vladimir Putin “interfering” in Western democracy. The Telegraph newspaper claimed it was “possibly in retaliation for America’s attack on Syria”.
In reality, no one knows if there is official Russian involvement, but the link to the US’s sprawling security apparatus is undeniable.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) developed this “cyber weapon” to launch attacks on rival imperialist countries and terrorist groups’ computers. The software gives wide-ranging access to computers using the Microsoft windows operating system.
A hacking group, known as “The Shadow Broker”, claimed they took the software from NSA last month. The hackers, who said their motives are financial not political, then dumped it on a public website and put it up for auction.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.