How well protected is NHS data?
A new study carried out by Vanson Bourne reveals a gap between the perceived strength of IT security measures in the NHS and the actual level of IT security built into NHS networks.
In the study of 250 NHS-employed CIOs, CTOs and IT Managers, 76 percent believe that they have suitable protection against cybercrime and data loss and 72 percent claim data loss is their biggest concern in terms of IT security.
However, while 84 percent of respondents state that encryption is becoming a necessity, the Sophos study reveals that encryption levels are worryingly low across the NHS:
- Only 10 percent state that encryption is well established within their organisation
- Only 59 percent have email encryption
- Only 49 percent have file share encryption
- Only 34 percent have encryption of data stored in the cloud.
According to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), the NHS was the UK’s number one victim of data breaches last year. Data leakage and loss of hardware, such as USB keys, were two of the most prevalent factors in these breaches.
“This study highlights that NHS organisations still face significant IT security issues and that IT decision makers have work to do to address gaps in their security,” said Jonathan Lee, UK Healthcare Sector Manager, Sophos UK and Ireland. “Failure to take the necessary precautions to keep cyber criminals out, to safeguard data and ultimately to protect patients and staff will continue to cause significant problems for NHS organisations. However, budget cuts and changes to working practices, such as the increase in mobile working, all present significant challenges within the sector. ”
Commenting on specific findings, Mr. Lee continued, “It’s no surprise that only 10 percent of NHS organisations stated that encryption was well established within their organisation. Most have encrypted laptops and USB sticks because they have been mandated to do so, but, currently, that is often where it stops.”
Mobile healthcare: A seismic shift for NHS IT security
The NHS is undergoing a period of significant change – balancing budget cuts while innovating to drive improvements to patient care. As a result, many NHS organisations are driving major operational change, including embracing mobile healthcare.
In the survey, 42 percent of respondents cite greater use of mobile devices in the community as one of the initiatives driving changes in IT security. This might be, for example, a community midwife using a tablet to record patient data instead of needing to carry around multiple patient files.
Health workers are increasingly on the move and using mobile working practices to stay connected. The impact of the widespread use of mobile devices out in the community on the security of an entire NHS organisation’s network should not be underestimated.
With this step change in working practices comes new requirements and IT managers need to ensure their organisation’s IT security is joined up to adequately protect users, devices and data at all points.
Consolidation and investment – future plans will drive improvements
The survey also showed that decision makers in the NHS are beginning to understand the importance of consolidation for improved protection. 42 percent state that they are considering consolidating their IT security providers, with over half (55 percent) stating the main motivation for this as cost savings. This is no surprise, considering 96 percent of organisations say they have experienced operational changes in the past year, with the most common change being budget cuts (60 percent). Survey respondents expect the average cut to IT budgets to be 6 percent, so budget will remain core to any investment decisions being made.
Of those not considering consolidating their suppliers, 54 percent said that they have many different requirements and their belief is that a sole provider cannot deliver on all requirements. Many in the industry would argue that this is an outdated perception that can lead to gaps within network security.