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UK govt risks 'catastrophic ransomware attack', warns committee
Mon, 18th Dec 2023

The UK government is in jeopardy of a "catastrophic ransomware attack" owing to poor preparation and underinvestment, warns a parliamentary committee. The risk of such an attack could lead to widespread disruption. The joint committee on the national security strategy report has stated that the UK's critical national infrastructure (CNI) is vulnerable to a severe cyber-attack at any point.

Importantly, the CNI is responsible for societal operations such as energy and water supply, transportation, healthcare, and telecommunications, as stated by The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Recently, a ransomware attack on the NHS resulted in patient data falling into the hands of cyber-criminals. Furthermore, in 2020, ransomware attack caused Redcar and Cleveland council systems to be inaccessible for nearly three weeks, leading to a damage cost of worth 18 million.

Andy Ward, cybersecurity expert and VP International for Absolute Software commented, “The heightened risk of cyber-attacks during uncertain economic times makes vulnerable security systems a prime target for cyber attackers. Ransomware threats do not discriminate across any person or sector, posing a significant concern due to increasing volumes of sensitive data.”

Ward further stated, "Due to the certainty of ransomware attacks, organisations must implement both preventative and reactive cybersecurity measures. They need to review current cyber postures, incorporate resilient Zero Trust models for user authentication. Furthermore, it is vital to have robust response protocols in place alongside prevention efforts. This involves leveraging secure access, self-healing solutions to recover and repair breached devices following a breach, which ensures heightened cyber preparedness."

According to the report, the government should prioritise investing in preventing cyber-attacks. The failure to do so has drawn criticism, especially regarding the lack of prioritising ransomware attacks. If successful, cyber-criminals' sabotage of CNI operations could pose a significant threat to physical security or human life safety, particularly if cyber-physical systems are intercepted and controlled by cyber-criminals.

The committee identified the NHS as being particularly vulnerable, due to a lack of simple upgrades in their IT systems, leaving them susceptible to cybercrime.

Cyber expert Suid Adeyanju, CEO of RiverSafe, stated, "Cybercriminals are persistently targeting vital national infrastructure with ransomware attacks, such as the NHS, to steal confidential patient data. Organisations need to re-evaluate their cybersecurity defences, combining a blend of technology and observability, as well as ensuring comprehensive training for all staff on the dangers of cyber threats. As the surge in cyber-attacks shows no signs of slowing down, measures to secure data and mitigate risks should be top priority for businesses."

Andy Ward reiterated, “Ransomware attacks are on the rise. They do not discriminate across any person or sector, posing a significant concern due to increasing volumes of sensitive data, remote devices, and network access points. Due to the certainty of such attacks, it is crucial for organisations to implement both preventative and recovery-focused cybersecurity measures. Peace of mind and resiliency can be ensured via robust response protocols, leveraging self-healing solutions to recover and repair breached devices and systems following an attack.”