Published: Sun, July 22, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Singapore succumbs to massive data breach in 'state-sponsored' attack

Singapore succumbs to massive data breach in 'state-sponsored' attack

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed today that a hacker had breached its IT systems and stolen personal and health-related data on roughly 1.5 million citizens.

The data stolen from SingHealth's database consists of names, addresses, gender, national registration number, race and date of birth.

About 160,000 patients also had information about their outpatient dispensed medicines illegally taken as well. However, the hackers did not amend or delete the records, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Communications and Information said in a joint statement.

Data such as diagnosis details, test results, or doctors' notes, were not stolen. "Reports of such fraud in other public health systems there", - reads the statement of the authorities.

But authorities say they believe the "deliberate, targeted and well-planned attack" was principally created to steal medical information pertaining to the country's prime minister, 66-year-old Lee Hsien Loong.

In his Facebook post about the attack, Lee warned that "those trying to break into our data systems are extremely skilled and determined".

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It appears that a computer belonging to SingHealth, one of the state's two major government healthcare groups, was infected with malware through which the hackers gained access to the database.

Earlier this year, Germany's government IT network was attacked by hackers targeting the interior ministries' private networks.

From what Channel Asia understands, the discovery of the attack occurred on 4 July when IHiS' database administrators detected unusual activity on one of SingHealth's IT databases; immediately halting the activity upon discovery.

SingHealth will send an SMS to all patients to inform them if they have been affected over the next five days.

The Prime Minister said the security and confidentiality of patient information is a top priority.

Richard Ford, chief scientist at information security firm Forcepoint, told The Business Times the incident is a "worrying reminder" of the vulnerabilities present in a digitally-connected workforce and an endless data sprawl.

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A Committee of Inquiry will be established and immediate action will be taken to strengthen government systems against cyber attacks, the Ministry of Communications said in a separate statement. Their data was copied, but officials say nothing was altered.

SingHealth has imposed a temporary Internet surfing separation on all of its 28,000 staff's work computers. I asked to be included.

"I don't know what the attackers were hoping to find".

Javvad Malik, security advocate at AlienVault, said the breach drives home the importance for all companies across all verticals, particularly those which deal with personal data of any kind, to have effective threat detection and incident response controls in place so any such breaches can be detected quickly and stopped from turning into a large incident. "Unfortunately, that has now happened", he said.

First, steps have been taken to contain the problem and eliminate the risk of further data leaking, he said.

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