One of the world’s leading cybersecurity experts warned last December that Ireland’s health service is at risk of the same deadly cyber attacks hitting other countries.
One such health service attack in September 2020 was being blamed for contributing to the death of a pensioner needing emergency care for an aneurysm in Düsseldorf, Germany.
She had to be diverted to another city because a ransomware attack at the hospital in Düsseldorf caused too much disruption to its IT systems.
Hospital IT systems in the UK and the US were also being targeted in so-called ransomware attacks at the time.
When asked if such attacks — including the one in Germany — could happen here, US cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier, a speaker at the Web Summit 2020, told the: “Unless the laws of physics are different in Ireland, yes.
"If you are a country on the planet that uses the internet that everyone else uses, then you worry about this.
“There's nothing magical about anybody's borders that makes it more or less likely.
“These attacks happen pretty much at random, to everybody who is vulnerable.
He added: “Ireland, Japan, New Zealand are really used to having an extremely large moat and that moat doesn't translate into cyberspace
“It's important to tell (people) that while they might be used to their borders providing safety and security, that doesn't work on the internet.”
Mr Schneier’s comments come as health systems all around the world were last December all reporting an increasing number of attacks by hackers.
Hacks specifically against organisations involved with Covid-19 vaccines are also being reported, although this time round the HSE has pointed out the vaccine program is as yet unaffected.
On December 9, for example, BioNTech confirmed the European Medicines Agency has been subject to a cyber attack.
It said that some documents relating to the regulatory submission for Pfizer and BioNTech’s BNT162b2 vaccine had been “unlawfully accessed”.
The cyber threat intelligence platform IBM X-Force has also reported attacks bearing “the potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft” against vaccine supply chain firms.
Their experts recently uncovered evidence of a global phishing campaign targeting the companies whose job is to ensure vaccines are safely stored at the right temperature while in storage and in transit.
IBM X-Force said their analysis indicates this “calculated operation” started in September and involved “precision targeting of executives and key global organisations... across six countries”.
It was announced last December that more than 120,000 HSE employees will get access to classes including Introduction to Cybersecurity and Cyber Security Essentials.
It was part of a plan to help HSE employees avoid falling victim to hackers.
Topics include how to prevent hackers from taking control of a system to earn a ransom payment.
In 2017, the HSE was one of many global systems attacked by hackers using the WannaCry ransomware.
Just one Wexford facility was ultimately infected as warnings from the UK alerted Irish hospitals to the risks.