Healthcare Internet access balances operational use, security

Following the SingHealth cyber attack in July last year, the Health Ministry decided to implement temporary ISS in the public healthcare sector as a precaution.
Following the SingHealth cyber attack in July last year, the Health Ministry decided to implement temporary ISS in the public healthcare sector as a precaution.PHOTO: ST FILE

We thank Mr Tan Kar Quan for his views (Why wasn't cyber security strategy to cut Internet rolled out?; Jan 19).

The public healthcare sector has been studying the application of Internet surfing separation (ISS) to enhance cyber security. However, as Internet access was important to a range of functions in healthcare institutions, significant challenges would have had to be addressed before this could be implemented.

We were also studying and testing alternative solutions such as a "virtual browser" solution, which allows access to the Internet through strictly controlled client servers. While not totally risk-free, it reduces the dangers significantly while minimising impact on operations.

Following the SingHealth cyber attack in July last year, the Health Ministry decided to implement temporary ISS in the public healthcare sector as a precaution.

This posed challenges in areas including emergency care, access to patient education resources, and booking of clinical appointments.

As a result, we had to put in place temporary workarounds.

These workaround solutions may not be appropriate for the long term.

The recently completed Committee of Inquiry stated that the optimal Internet access strategy for the healthcare sector would require a balance of various considerations such as cyber security risks and patient safety, and recommended that an Internet access strategy which minimises exposure to external threats be implemented.

We will be piloting the "virtual browser" in an operational environment, to assess its effectiveness. We are working with the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore on this and the evaluation is expected to take about six months.

This will enable us to make a more considered decision on our Internet access model in public healthcare.

We hope to develop a balanced solution that can be more efficient and sustainable for healthcare, and allow us to implement future models of care, such as telemedicine, that leverage the Internet to provide better patient care and services in the community.

We thank patients and healthcare colleagues for their understanding and cooperation.

We will continue to strengthen our systems and capabilities for greater cyber security resilience.

Lim Siok Peng (Ms)

Director, Corporate Communications

Ministry of Health

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2019, with the headline 'Healthcare Internet access balances operational use, security'. Print Edition | Subscribe