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NHS Toolkit takedown will inconvenience docs, not patients

Medics and sec-experts assess 3-week sicknote

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In a statement, the Department of Health explained the ministerial decision to take down the site.

There is no evidence of any security breach or loss of data. Given the importance of given the importance of preserving confidentiality of staff and patient information, it is not acceptable to take any risks. The Department of Health is working closely with the supplier to ensure that the service is restored as soon as possible and apologises for any inconvenience this may cause doctors in the meantime. It is hoped that full service can be resumed within three weeks.

The suspension of the toolkit creates chaos for thousands of doctors and their appraisers, but the implications of a successful hacking attack would be far more severe and longer lasting.

David Harley, director of malware intelligence at security firm Eset, and a former NHS IT manager for five years, explained there was higher sensitivity over the security of health service sites compared to commercial websites.

"While three weeks seems a lot of downtime for a maintenance check, it's not necessarily sinister. There was a highly visible MTAS (Medical Training Application Service) leak re junior doctor data in 2007 that caught the eye of the Information Commissioner, and a subsequent welter of other data leakage reports, from thumb drives and CDs, so there will be sensitivity in the department of health (and higher)."

NHS Connecting for Health has always been largely focused, in terms of security, on confidentiality, he explained. "I'd expect them to take a possible breach very seriously," Harley explained.

Harley added that the precautionary suspension of IT services in the NHS is rare but not without precedent. "It's not unprecedented for NHS IT services to be taken down during a security breach, even if the short term impact was significant, though the few incidents in my personal experience were all malware-related." ®

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