Taoiseach defends State’s capacity to respond to cyber crime after HSE attack

Aontu leader Peadar Toibin said the Government’s record on protection from cyber attacks was ‘shockingly poor’.
Taoiseach defends State’s capacity to respond to cyber crime after HSE attack

By James Ward, PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended the State’s capacity to deal with cyber crime following the attack on the HSE.

During Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said the Government’s record on protection from cyber attacks was “shockingly poor”.

He criticised the €5 million budget given to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) last year.

Mr Tóibín told the Dáil: “The former chief executive of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, stated this week that the HSE’s expenditure on IT security is ‘about a quarter of what you would expect compared with other health systems’.

“Taoiseach, that’s a phenomenally difficult thing to deal with, that the person who was head of the HSE in recent times is saying that the Government is spending a quarter of what it should be with regards to cyber security.

“The NCSC has been given a budget of just €5 million.

“How can the Government claim to be fulfilling their duty of care to Ireland against cyber attacks?”

Mr Tóibín told the Dáil the NCSC has just 25 staff and no dedicated premises, something denied by the Taoiseach, who accused the Aontu leader of a “melodramatic presentation”.

Micheál Martin also rejected the assertion that the NCSC is underfunded, noting that in the last budget funding for the centre had been trebled.

He added: “Since I’ve become Taoiseach, I’ve been very focused on the overall national cyber security threat.

“We’ve significantly increased funding for the National Cyber Security Centre, but also within the HSE itself, both capital and current funding has gone up dramatically over the last number of years.”

He added: “We have very good capacity within our system in terms of the quality of the personnel available, that is dealing with this particular issue.

“And it has been dealt with in the correct manner, contain the problem, remedy, restore, and protect.

“Our overriding objective is to get services up as quickly as we possibly can for patients. We have to do it methodically, we have to do it properly and in a way that’s robust to further attack.

“That’s why, unfortunately, it is and would take some time to get services fully restored, because we are prioritising key areas, as you know.”

Coronavirus – Mon Apr 26, 2021
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said funding for the National Cyber Security Centre had been ‘significantly increased’. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Budget 2021 saw an increase of €3.4 million in funding for the NCSC to €5.1 million, up from €1.7 million the previous year.

Earlier, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys said she is “not aware” of personal data linked to the HSE hack being published online.

At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, the hacking of HSE computer systems, dubbed the “most significant cybercrime attack on the Irish state”, topped the agenda.

Ransom demands

The Government has rejected ransom demands from the crime gang responsible, and has focused on restoring all medical services as quickly as possible.

But there are concerns that if ransom demands are not met, personal data belonging to thousands of patients could be sold online.

Speaking before the Cabinet meeting, Ms Humphreys said: “We’re working with our international partners, and if any data does appear we will deal with that.

“There’s a lot of experience on this internationally, we’re getting a lot of co-operation.”

The Minister met Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and officials from the NCSC on Monday, where she was told of the ongoing impact of the attack, as well as the technical responses deployed and work to recover the HSE’s IT systems.

She said: “The NCSC are working, the gardaí are working with their international partners as well.

“We’re not aware of any information that has been published yet, I’m not aware of it. But we are working on the matter.”

The impact of the attack on services is expected to last throughout this week and beyond, with thousands of patients facing cancelled appointments and delays.

Private and voluntary hospitals will be brought on board to ease the burden, with “alternative processes” to be put in place for urgent cancer care needs.

Dr Conor O’Shea, the national co-ordinator of the General Practice Information Technology group, has said that the majority of GP services will remain up and running.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: “Most GPs will be working pretty much as normal. So if you ring your GP this morning you will get much the same service that you did last Tuesday.

“We will be able to assess the usual range of physical and mental health issues that people bring to us every day, either by talking to you on the phone or by seeing patients to examine them.”

People seeking tests for Covid-19 are being asked to use walk-in testing centres across the country.

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