SecurityBrief New Zealand logo
New Zealand's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

Waikato DHB warned a cyberattack 'catastrophic for patient safety'

Fri 12 Nov 2021

Waikato District Health Board was warned its IT security was inadequate and severely compromised just months before a massive ransomware attack that brought Waikato Hospital to its knees.

An internal cyber security document dated December 2020 also warned that a lack of training meant staff posed an unintentional threat to its systems.

However, Waikato DHB said the strategy was only a draft that was part of a wider digital strategy about to be heard by the DHB's commissioners when hackers struck on May 18.

The draft strategy, seen by Local Democracy Reporting, says the DHB's IT security was compromised by outdated systems, infrastructure and staff resourcing, making it a sitting duck for a major cyber security attack.

In the aftermath of the cyberattack, some cancer patients were transferred and elective surgeries postponed as hackers brought down hundreds of servers and patient and staff information was dumped on the dark web.

The strategy said at the time there was no cyber security incident response plan and noted the urgent incident response option available to staff at Waikato Hospital was to "unplug network equipment".

It appears to be a damning indictment of the state of IT security at the DHB five months before the cyber security breach.

The 32-page report said Waikato DHB:

  • Was still using Windows XP on some systems, a software released in 2001 that has been unsupported for five years;
  • Relied on "perimeter security" such as firewalls, blocking, and malware protection that was becoming outdated as the DHB moved to cloud-based services;
  • Struggled with multiple IT applications with inconsistent functionality, most very old and with poor support if any;
  • Was behind on patching, the installation of critical software updates for security purposes;
  • Did not have enough IT staff to manage and co-ordinate IT security with no cyber security specialist, and investments in cyber security were not prioritised;
  • Did not have continuously monitored cloud services to detect suspicious behaviour;
  • And did not have appropriate policies or training for staff around IT security.

The strategy, authored by two DHB employees, estimated the DHB had at least 800 software applications, many of them known to be duplicating significant functionality.

"Some of the legacy systems do not have security setups that can be modernised to protect against current security threats, and the majority are based on technology that is so old that it can no longer be patched or updated to guard against emerging security threats."

There was no procurement policy designed to monitor and regulate the purchase of medical devices used in patient care.

This meant they were often bought based on vendor demonstrations without consideration of compatibility.

"As a result, the DHB has many systems and devices that were acquired to perform a clinical role but which have many security holes that are difficult to plug."

The strategy gave an example of clinical devices connectable to the internet that were running Windows XP.

"These old control systems cannot be patched, and when the machines are plugged into the network they pose significant risk to the DHB's network and other devices."

The devices had poorly-configured IT security controls that could be compromised by malware, resulting in bad readings, corrupted data, or even being hacked for patient data.

"This creates clinical risk for patients and for the DHB."

There was also no "follow-you" printing model at the DHB, meaning unauthorised parties could potentially view printed information at the printer.

The document said a skills deficit in the IT unit meant the DHB's IT operations approach was to reduce cyber risk by locking systems down and limiting access.

"DHB clinical staff have responded to this by turning to 'shadow IT' - informal software applications and personal hardware devices - which in turn increases IT risk even more, creating a never-ending risk cycle that gets worse with every turn."

With a limited budget, Waikato DHB was faced with a difficult choice when allocating resources, the report said, and cyber security had not been a priority when the DHB was struggling to meet minimum requirements for IT provision to support the delivery of healthcare.

"This trade-off is a common one at the DHB, even though the consequences of a targeted cyberattack would be catastrophic for patient safety."

Sources told Local Democracy Reporting the draft strategy was abandoned because of cost but Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Kevin Snee said: "This was a working document that was an input into the broader Digital Health Strategy that subsequently came to the executive on May 13."

"It proposed substantial investment into digital technology, was supported by the executive, and was due to go to the commissioners on 26 May but was interrupted by the cyberattack."

A DHB spokesperson said the work had been initiated by the DHB's new digital leadership to address any areas that required attention, and support the migration to new solutions such as cloud-based applications, which would also introduce new cyber security considerations as it moved systems outside the "perimeter security" setting of firewalls, intrusion and malware protections.

"The document had not yet reached final draft, had not been reviewed or qualified and had not been presented to management or governance."

The broader Digital Health Strategy, which would have involved substantial investment, was presented to the executive and supported on May 13 and was due to go to the Finance Risk and Audit committee on May 26, the spokesperson said.

"The security strategy work would have informed the Digital Health Strategy as one aspect of that wider programme."

It had not been costed and any associated work programmes not confirmed.

"This work was interrupted by the cyberattack but has now been restarted."

When asked whether the strategy could have prevented the attack if implemented, the spokesman said elements described in the strategy were under way and in some cases accelerated, such as the migration to the Cloud and organisation-wide adoption of Windows 10.

"...There is no current evidence to indicate whether full implementation of the draft long-term strategy would have impacted the May 18 event."

The spokesman said Windows 10 was deployed on all compatible machines at the time of the cyber-event.

"It is noted that it is not possible in all instances to run Windows 10 due to specific peripheral hardware or medical compliance needs. Mitigations were taken to protect those machines."

The DHB has now recovered from the attack and is continuing to investigate what led to it.

To date, it has not said what cost has been incurred by the incident but more than 4200 people were affected and at least 22 people have notified the DHB of a privacy breach.

Complaints have also been lodged with the Privacy Commissioner but a spokesperson would not say how many.

RNZ logo
This story was originally published on and is republished with permission.
Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Adatree, Brother, Databricks, Nutanix & Rubrik
We round up all job appointments from May 20-26, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Could New Zealanders initiate a cyber attack from within?
The threat landscape is significantly increasing worldwide, and the opportunities it presents are a growing concern in Aotearoa.
Story image
The path to bolstering supply chain security in New Zealand
A significant amount of today's business and leisure activity relies on IT supply chains. From complex international freight trades to local small business distribution channels, any supply chain that involves IT infrastructure serves as a crucial tool in our daily lives. 
Story image
Microsoft NZ and TupuToa to boost diversity in cybersecurity sector
Microsoft NZ has teamed up with TupuToa to co-develop a cyber security employment programme specifically aimed at creating more diversity in Aotearoa's cybersecurity sector.
Story image
What every CISO must answer to enable a best-in-class security operations program
It has been widely reported recently that South Australian government employees have been the victims of a cyberattack.
Story image
Infosec unveils role-guided cybersecurity training roadmaps
Infosec Skills Roles maps hands-on training and certifications to the 12 most in-demand cybersecurity roles to maximise training efficiency.
Story image
APAC ranks third-highest region targeted by ransomware
Asia Pacific has ranked the third-highest region globally to be targeted by ransomware, according to cybersecurity firm Group-IB.
Story image
i-PRO releases smallest AI-based surveillance camera on the market
The new i-PRO mini network camera is now available, with a pocket-sized form factor and full AI analytics functionality.
Story image
WhatsApp and QR codes the next scam threat - report
KnowBe4 has warned it expects to see an increase in QR Codes and the WhatsApp chat platform being used for phishing and other scams. 
Story image
Asia Pacific plagued by sophisticated bad bots - report
The three most common bot attacks were account takeover, content or price scraping, and scalping to obtain limited-availability items.
Story image
Amazon Web Services / AWS
RedShield leverages AWS to scale cybersecurity services
"Working with AWS gives RedShield the ability to mitigate significant application layer DDoS attacks, helping leaders adopt best practices and security architectures."
Story image
Tech job moves - Forcepoint, Malwarebytes, SolarWinds & VMware
We round up all job appointments from May 13-20, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
CERT NZ releases first Cyber Security Insights for 2022
CERT NZ has released Quarter One: Cyber Security Insights 2022, which offers an overview of reports about cybersecurity incidents affecting New Zealanders.
Story image
Data Protection
Barracuda launches new capabilities for API Protection
"Every business needs this type of critical protection against API vulnerabilities and automated bot attacks," Barracuda says.
Threat actors are exploiting weaknesses in interconnected IT/OT ecosystems. Darktrace illuminates your entire business and takes targeted action to stop emerging attacks.
Link image
Story image
Vishing attacks reach all time high - Agari and PhishLabs
"Hybrid vishing campaigns continue to generate stunning numbers, representing 26.1% of total share in volume so far in 2022."
Story image
Cybersecurity prompts upgrade for 1.3 billion electricity meters
ABI Research finds Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and cybersecurity concerns are prompting the upgrade of 1.3 billion electricity meters by 2027.
Story image
Alarming surge in Conti Ransomware Group activity - report
A new report has identified a 7.6 per cent increase in the number of vulnerabilities tied to ransomware in Q1 2022.
Story image
Check Point
Check Point and CCTV expert join forces to boost protection
The partnership will involve Check Point Quantum IoT Protect Nano Agent being embedded in Provision-ISR’s CCTV cameras for on-device runtime protection.
Story image
New Relic
New Relic launches vulnerability management platform
New Relic has introduced New Relic Vulnerability Management to help organisations find and address security risks faster and with greater precision.
Story image
Employees on the frontline of cyber defense - report
In the first quarter of 2022, employees found themselves more than ever at the frontline of cyber defense, according to a new report from Kroll. 
Story image
APAC organisations fail to disclose ransomware breaches
85% of organisations in APAC were breached by ransomware at least once in the past five years, but only 28% publicly disclosed the incident.
Story image
Elevation of Privilege the top 2021 Microsoft vulnerability
BeyondTrust has released its 2022 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report, finding that Elevation of Privilege is the top vulnerability category for the second consecutive year.
Story image
Trojan cyber attacks hitting SMBs harder than ever - Kaspersky
In 2022 the number of Trojan-PSW detections increased by almost a quarter compared to the same period in 2021 to reach 4,003,323.
Story image
Data Protection
Information management capabilities to meet privacy requirements
Organisations with customers or operations across more than one country face a spate of new and proposed privacy and data protection laws.
Story image
Fortinet introduces self-learning AI in latest offering
Fortinet is introducing self-learning AI capabilities in its new network detection and response offering, FortiNDR.
Story image
Third-party automotive apps bear significant privacy risks
Mobile applications for connected cars provide various features to make life easier for motorists, but they can also be a source of risk.
Story image
'Alarming' rise in ransomware threats - Verizon report
As criminals look to leverage increasingly sophisticated forms of malware, it is ransomware that continues to prove particularly successful.
Story image
Customer experience
Gartner recognises Okta for abilities in Access Management
Okta has announced it has been recognised as a Customers' Choice for the fourth time in a row in the Gartner Peer Insights "Voice of the Customer" report.
Story image
Silver Peak
The path to an adaptive, modern network
Managing and securing the network looks different than it did just two years ago—especially given that most of these networks are made up of multi-generations of infrastructure stitched together over time.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Gartner reveals top three tech trends for banks this year
Gartner says generative artificial intelligence, autonomic systems and privacy-enhancing computation are gaining traction in banking and investment services.
Story image
Ponemon Institute
Email revealed to be riskiest channel for data loss
More than half (60%) of organisations experienced data loss or exfiltration caused by an employee mistake on email in the last 12 months.
Story image
More than 40% of banks worried about cloud security - report
Publicis Sapient's new report finds security and the lack of cloud skills and internal understanding of business benefits are big obstacles for banks moving to the cloud.
Story image
Managed service provider
Barracuda MSP Day 2022 highlights MSP opportunities
Barracuda Networks has released a report showing global services-related MSP revenue is set to increase by more than a third in 2022 compared to 2021.
Story image
Cyber attacks
Devastating cyber attacks expected to hit energy sector
Energy executives anticipate life, property, and environment-compromising cyber attacks on the sector within the next two years.
Story image
Vectra AI
Understanding the weight on security leader’s shoulders, and how to shift it
Millions of dollars of government funding and internal budgets are being funnelled into cybersecurity to build resilience against sophisticated threats, indicating how serious this issue has become.
Story image
Sysdig unveils new Kubernetes troubleshooting and cloud innovations
Sysdig has introduced two new innovations that look to help bolster cloud services and simplify Kubernetes troubleshooting.
Story image
BYOD / Bring Your Own Device
How zero trust can lead the battle against ransomware
SecOps teams champion a zero trust strategy to support the fight against the escalating risk of cybercrime and help monitor threat actors across a network.
Story image
Accenture - a collective security approach a driving factor for cyber resilience
With the approaching Davos World Economic Forum upon us, it is even more imperative to discuss the impact of cybersecurity on business operations leading into the future.
Story image
The ups and downs and runarounds of catching cybercriminals in NZ
We're becoming more and more aware of cybercrimes but how many criminals actually get caught? The New Zealand police explain why the answer is complicated.
Story image
Maintaining secure systems with expectations of flexible work
Most office workers feel they've proved they can work successfully from home, and as much as employers try, things aren't going back to the way they were anytime soon.
Story image
Let’s clear the cloud visibility haze with app awareness
Increasingly, organisations are heading for the cloud, initiating new born-in-the-cloud architectures and migrating existing applications via ‘lift and shift’ or refactoring.
Story image
ChildFund launches new campaign to protect children online
ChildFund says WEB Safe & Wise aims to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse online while also empowering them to become digitally savvy. 
Story image
Comcast to use ThreatQuotient for cybersecurity operations
Comcast, the parent company of NBC Universal and SKY Group, has chosen ThreatQ Platform and ThreatQ Investigations to meet their cybersecurity needs.