Rear view of a male doctor with stethoscope in hospital ward from Shutterstock.com

Cybersecurity vendor’s server “not adequately safeguarded against unauthorised access” online, blood donors’ personal particulars vulnerable for over two months: HSA

More than 800,000 individuals who have donated blood or have attempted to do so in Singapore had their personal particulars placed at risk over the Internet due to unauthorised access by a Health Sciences Authority (HSA) vendor for over two months.

In a statement on Friday (15 Mar), HSA revealed that it was only alerted by “a cybersecurity expert” to a vulnerability in its database, which was stored in one of Secur Solutions Group Pte Ltd (SSG)’s servers, two days prior to its announcement.

The expert proceeded to inform the Personal Data Protection Commission regarding the vulnerability a day later, following which the Commission had promptly forwarded the matter to the HSA, as the Authority is responsible for handling Singapore’s blood bank.

HSA said that it had “immediately worked with SSG to disable access to the database”, in addition to making a police report regarding the breach.

At 9.35 am, 22 minutes after HSA had received the alert from the Commission regarding the breach, the Authority instructed SSG to disable access to the database.

According to HSA, the database was fully secured at 10 a.m. against any further unauthorised access.

An SSG spokesperson told Straits Times that the affected server “was immediately secured upon notification of the unauthorised access”.

“We have engaged external cyber security professionals, KPMG in Singapore, and initiated a thorough review of our IT systems. We are working closely with HSA and other authorities in continuing investigations,” added the spokesperson.

According to ST, the cybersecurity expert, who HSA has declined to identify, is foreign and is based overseas.

“The expert has confirmed to HSA that he does not intend to disclose the contents of the database,” said the Authority, adding: “HSA is in contact with the expert on deleting the information”.

“SSG provides services to HSA and was working on a database containing registration-related information of 808,201 blood donors”, said HSA.

Some of the information stored in the database include those regarding the “name, NRIC, gender, number of blood donations, dates of the last three blood donations, and in some cases, blood type, height and weight” of over 800,000 people who have donated or registered to donate blood in Singapore since 1986.

However, the Authority assured that “the database contained no other sensitive, medical or contact information”.

HSA added that “no other unauthorised person had accessed the database” according to “preliminary findings from HSA’s review of the database logs”.

“HSA had provided the data to SSG for updating and testing,” according to the Authority.

ST reported that the relevant databases were HSA’s Westgate Tower and Woodlands blood banks’ databases.

The data was also provided by HSA to SSG for “testing purposes after some donors said their data was outdated”.

“SSG placed the information in an internet-facing server on 4 Jan 2019 and failed to institute adequate safeguards to prevent unauthorised access.

“It had done so without HSA’s knowledge and approval, and against its contractual obligations with HSA,” said the Authority.

Chief Executive Officer of HSA Dr Mimi Choong said in response to the breach: “We sincerely apologise to our blood donors for this lapse by our vendor.

“We would like to assure donors that HSA’s centralised blood bank system is not affected.

“HSA will also step up checks and monitoring of our vendors to ensure the safe and proper use of blood donor information,” she added.

The Authority had also urged concerned donors whose particulars may have been affected by the breach to contact the Authority at its hotline number: 62200183.

The HSA database breach is the third cybersecurity breach concerning public healthcare databases in Singapore that has been reported thus far in recent months, following the HIV registry leak and Singapore’s largest cyberattack to date, the SingHealth data breach involving the particulars of around 1.5 million patients, including those of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.