Contact tracing app ‘fails’ NHS and cyber security tests

The app is being trialled in the Isle of Wight this week ahead of being rolled out nationally later this month

The government’s anticipated coronavirus tracing app has failed crucial security tests and is not yet safe enough to be rolled out across the UK, according to reports.

It is understood the system has failed all tests needed in order for it to be included in the NHS Apps Library, including cyber security, clinical safety and performance, reports the HSJ. The NHSX app is being trialled across households on the Isle of Wight this week and is due to be rolled out nationally, if successful, later this month.

The app uses Bluetooth to alert a mobile user when they have spent more than 15 minutes within 6ft of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 or experienced symptoms. It will also advise the user to self-isolate if they have come into contact with someone who is infected.

But senior figures described the app as a ‘bit wobbly’ and have raised concerns it could affect public trust if privacy settings aren’t tightened. There are fears particularly regarding users’ personal information once they log that they have tested positive or recorded symptoms, meaning they then become ‘traceable’.

Amnesty International UK also described the app as ‘deeply concerning’ and warned that people’s right to privacy could become ‘another casualty’ of the pandemic.

A senior NHS national source told the HSJ: ‘The real problem is the government initially started saying it was a ‘privacy preserving highly anonymous app’, but it quite clearly isn’t going to be… 

‘When you use the app and you’re not [Covid-19] positive in the early stages, you’re just exchanging signals between two machines… But the second you say, “actually I’m positive”, that has to go back up to the government server where it starts to track you versus other people.’

However, senior figures said the app is still in its early stages and that its test failures are not a ‘big disaster’ right now but fear it may not be ready quick enough.

Matt Hancock announces NHS is working on a contact tracing app

All of the apps showcased in the NHS Apps Library have been approved in line with NHS and national standards, regulation and industry best practice. As part of the tests which must be passed, developers are asked questions regarding clinical safety, data protection and security.

The app records users’ personal data under an anonymous ID, rather than by the person’s name. If and when someone starts showing symptoms, or tests positive