The pros and cons of contact-tracing apps

Running old software during WannaCry

The NHS’ reliance on aging software became a major issue in 2017 when large parts of the NHS’ IT network went offline due to a cyberattack.

The hack, which locked files and demanded ransom payments, affected a third of hospital trusts in the UK as well as eight per cent of GP practices. 

WannaCry was able to spread through NHS IT systems because many organisations were still using Windows XP, a 19-year-old operating system that is vulnerable to cyberattacks.

It was estimated that the hack caused the cancellation of 19,000 appointments and cost the NHS more than £92 million.


An NHS employee caused a serious software outage in 2016 when she attempted to send an email to less than 20 people but accidentally emailed 840,000 people who have NHS email accounts. 

The glitch resulted in 500 million emails being sent in less than two hours which crashed the entire system used by 1.2 million NHS employees.

What other countries are doing


France has opted with a ‘centralised’ Bluetooth contact-tracing model, similar to the UK, for its StopCovid app. French ministers have said this is so the data it collects can be used to help better trace suspected cases. However, the country’s government is currently in a dispute with Apple, which favours a decentralised model where data stays on a user’s phone, saying the tech giant is blocking the app from the Bluetooth access it needs.


Germany initially started building a centralised version of its own app, however it reversed course last month after Apple refused to give the app the Bluetooth access. Most Apple apps are only allowed access to an iPhone’s Bluetooth for a specific allowed function, rather than for continuous scanning. Germany is now building a decentralized version of an app along the lines of the Apple and Google model.

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