For a long time, many health care providers have been worried about the wrong thing — compliance rather than patient safety. Today, we see the most frightening example yet of the devastating consequences.
A widespread ransomware attack in the U.K. has hospitals turning away ambulances and canceling appointments, according to Reuters. A computer virus has crippled computers in 16 organizations, encrypting critical files and demanding payment to unlock them.
“Our emergency surgeries are running doors open, we can access our software but ransomware window pops up every 20-30 seconds so we are slow,” writes @fendifille in a post about the attack.
The National Health Service confirmed some details of the attack.
“A number of NHS organisations have reported to NHS Digital that they have been affected by a ransomware attack,” says a statement on the NHS website. “The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor. This attack was not specifically targeted at the NHS and is affecting organisations from across a range of sectors.
“At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed,” it continues. “Our focus is on supporting organisations to manage the incident swiftly and decisively, but we will continue to communicate with NHS colleagues and will share more information as it becomes available.”
Security journalist Brian Krebs has more on Wanna Decryptor at his website.
Twitter chatter describes technology chaos as hospitals try to recover; doctors are using paper and pen, while a widely-shared image of an allegedly infected machine shows the hackers demanding about $300 in bitcoins to release the data being held hostage. Reuters also reports that the attack has spread to computers in Spain’s Telefonica corporation.
The hospital attack is more worrisome, however, for its potential to impact life and death situations. It’s unclear that the attack has yet caused harm, but Reuters said members of the public in impacted areas are being asked “to only seek medical care for emergencies.” On Twitter, there are claims that doctors and nurses are using pen and paper to keep records.
In a statement, NHS Incident Director Dr. Anne Rainsberry tried to reassure U.K. residents that hospitals emergency rooms are still able to function.
“We’d like to reassure patients that if they need the NHS and it’s an emergency that they should visit A&E or access emergency services in the same way as they normally would and staff will ensure they get the care they need,” she said. “More widely we ask people to use the NHS wisely while we deal with this major incident which is still ongoing. NHS Digital are investigating the incident and across the NHS we have tried and tested contingency plans to ensure we are able to keep the NHS open for business.”
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