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NHS board warns patients over stolen personal details extortion risk

The personal information of staff and patients was stolen in the data breach at NHS Dumfries and Galloway in February (Alamy/PA)
The personal information of staff and patients was stolen in the data breach at NHS Dumfries and Galloway in February (Alamy/PA)

NHS Dumfries and Galloway has warned patients to assume that stolen data published online by cyber-criminals last month could be used for extortion.

The cyber attack happened in February, and criminals published details of six patients online in March and issued demands which were not met.

On May 6, the hackers published three terabytes of personal information relating to patients and NHS workers, including X-ray results and complaints letters.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway has said IT systems are “as secure as they can be” and has not disclosed details of how the systems were accessed due to advice from Police Scotland.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway chief executive Julie White has written to every household in the region to offer reassurance and advice.

In a leaflet, she encouraged patients to call Police Scotland on 101 if they were concerned about attempts to access their emails.

The leaflet said: “It is an acknowledged risk that the stolen data could be used to exploit or threaten people. This could either be by the cyber criminals who copied the data or someone who accesses it now that it has been published.

“Anyone accessing the stolen data would be in breach of the Data Protection Act. If you receive a suspicious approach from anyone claiming to possess your NHS data or anyone else’s NHS data, you should call Police Scotland by phoning 101.”

However the health board said that due to the quantity of data, it was possible that the impact was “limited”, and the situation was compared to stolen medical records of more than 10 million people in Australia posted online in 2022.

A leaflet sent to households said: “It has been suggested by one prominent cyber security expert that this may also be the case in Dumfries and Galloway.”

The two-page document included websites and a phone number to get additional information.

It said: “This concern is more for NHS staff than for patients, because of the sort of information gathered from staff during the recruitment process.

“NHS staff have been notified of this risk, and have been provided with advice.”

It added: “Senior NHS staff continue to respond to the attack with support from Police Scotland, the National Crime Agency, the National Cyber Security Centre and the Scottish Government.”

The leaflet said that “our IT systems are as secure as they can be”, but advised that people should be “on their guard”.

It added: “We continue to work with partner agencies on the response to this situation, and the continuing criminal investigation.”

A Police Scotland statement in the leaflet reads: “Members of the public should not attempt to access or share any leaked data as you may be committing an offence under the Data Protection Act.”