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Another NHS hospital stricken with Conficker virus

Social healthcare disease

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It could be that hospital and other public sector systems include servers running NT4 and PCs running very old versions of Windows. Security software packages no longer support these systems and this may well be a contributing factor in recent outbreaks of Conficker, Harley explained.

"I wouldn't like to bet that there are no PCs at all sitting in medical centres and police stations that aren't running anti-virus because they run an OS that's no long supported by the organisation's scanner of choice, or hardware that can't take the extra load from an on-access scanner, or because there's inadequate system support to ensure that local security is maintained," he said.

Even without blanket anti-virus protection it ought to be possible to block the spread of Conficker via a combination of patching and other precautions, such as disabling AutoRun and applying strong passwords to network shares. However bureaucratic factors may be at work against the application strong security policies, according to Harley.

"UK government networks in general and the NHS in particular are, historically, heavily reliant on displacement of responsibility," Harley explained. "There is a naive belief that is not confined to the public sector, that you can outsource responsibility along with your core services."

"In the NHS, which is really an umbrella organisation comprising many semi-autonomous sites clustered around some common networking services, NHS Connecting for Health decided it wasn't in the business of network and end-point security, so it focused on confidentiality and the services it supplied nationally."

Privacy and data confidentiality issues are taken extremely seriously across the health service, while malware protection on computers languishes as a low priority, to sometimes disastrous effect.

"The main providers don't want to take responsibility for end-point security, and the centralized Threat Assessment facility I used to run gave way to a more community/peer-oriented model which effectively threw more responsibility back to end sites, Harley explained.

"I suspect that there are still issues over who's responsible for what. But I don't know to what extent those issues are mirrored in other public sector organisations. Those that are properly protected by GSI [Government Secure Intranet] should be less porous," he added. ®

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