Earlier this year, nearly 20,000 hospital appointments were cancelled due to the National Health Service’s failure to provide adequate security to prevent cyber attacks. According to the National Audit Office, the cyber attack that occurred in May and affected as many as 81 trusts could have been easily prevented. Sir Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office, warned just days ago that health bosses need to “get their act together” so that a cyber attack of that magnitude never happens again.
The virus that hit the NHS was called the WannaCry virus, which was spread via email and successfully locked hospital staff out of their computers. Critical medical equipment such as MRI machines were also disabled in the attack, and of the 19,500 medical appointments that ended up being cancelled, 139 of them were potential cancer referrals. Additionally, five of the hospitals were forced to turn ambulances away at the very peak of the crisis.
Now, the United Kingdom’s Security Minister is blaming the WannaCry cyber attack that hit the NHS earlier this year on the North Koreans. “This attack, we believe quite strongly that it came from a foreign state. North Korea was the state that we believe was involved this worldwide attack,” said Security Minister Ben Wallace. During a separate interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Wallace stated, “we can be as sure as possible” and “it is widely believed in the community and across a number of countries that North Korea had taken this role.”
Mr. Wallace added that the cyber attack could very well have been an attempt by the North Korean regime to gain access to foreign funds. “North Korea has been potentially linked to other attacks about raising foreign currency,” he explained.
As serious and devastating as the attack on the National Health Service was, it certainly wasn’t the only time that the North Korean government has hacked into the networks of their foreign enemies. Earlier this month, for example, the New York Times reported on how a group of North Korean hackers successfully stole U.S. and Southern Korean military plans which, among other things, included a strategy for removing the regime’s tyrannical leader, Kim Jong-Un.
The lawmaker who brought this to the attention of the media was Mr. Rhee Cheol-hee, a member of the governing Democratic Party who services on the National Assembly’s defense committee. According to Mr. Rhee, he was only made aware of North Korea’s hacking attack in September of last year.
While its still not known whether or not any of the military’s top secrets were leaked, Mr. Rhee explained that just under 300 lower-classification confidential documents were taken by the North Korean hackers. Both a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Moon Sang-gyun, and a spokesman for the Pentagon, Col. Robert Manning, refused to give details on the matter. (Related: The United States continues to remain vulnerable to a potential cyber attack – are you prepared?)
The hacking that was reported earlier this month is just part of a larger cyber war that has been going on for quite some time involving North Korea, South Korea and the United States. In 2010, for example, the U.S. followed South Korea’s lead and broke into North Korea’s computer systems, specifically targeting the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is the North’s equivalent to the Central Intelligence Agency. (Related: As war with North Korea approaches, the Pentagon is busy trying to protect the United States from a massive cyber attack.)
These cyber attacks from North Korea should serve as a stark reminder to both the United States and parts of Europe that being prepared to defend against a hacking attack can be just as important as being prepared to defend the country against a missile or an act of terror. Cyber warfare is undoubtedly the warfare of the future, and the United States has to be ready for it.