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Robin Gauld
Robin Gauld

An "alarming" cyber attack on the Waikato District Health Board highlights the urgent need for national IT and security systems to strengthen health sector protection, a health systems specialist says.

Prof Robin Gauld, dean of the University of Otago School of Business, said yesterday that despite efforts to overcome the problems, the Waikato DHB was still being hit by the chaos resulting from Tuesday’s apparent ransomware attack.

"For three decades we've known in New Zealand that our health information and clinical systems have been vulnerable to attack.

"So while this attack comes as no surprise, it is alarming."

It had a "profound" impact on patients who were reliant on crucial services.

Prof Gauld said the cyber attack on the Waikato DHB was ruthless, badly disrupting patient care and potentially threatening patient confidentiality.

"Such attacks are increasing so there is real urgency now to address security nationally across all DHBs and the broader health system."

"Having disparate IT systems across the country's 20 DHBs is not helpful, which has been highlighted in many reports and stocktakes over the years, and more recently brought into stark relief by the Covid-19 pandemic."

Trying to pull together a national update on Covid-19 cases throughout the country had proved difficult with the individual IT systems at the various health boards.

"We need to have national IT systems and national security systems to deal with this kind of cyber threat."

Any large organisation faced similar sorts of cyber attack risks.

"The DHBs quite possibly are less secure then other organisations, due to historic lack of ability to work together with a consolidated focus on cyber security," he said.

There had been a "lot of focus" on cyber security at DHBs, but "there is always room for more".

Prof Gauld emphasised that the recent cyber attacks had not affected banks and airlines, organisations that had long made a big commitment to high levels of cyber security.



Technically, a form of terrorism, directly affecting public healthcare.



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