UK working to restore hospital systems after cyberattack

Frederick Owens
May 15, 2017

"A number of NHS organizations have reported to NHS Digital that they have been affected by a ransomware attack", NHS Digital, the health service's IT division, said in a statement.

Asign outside one of London's National Health Service hospitals on Friday Aug. 14, 2009.

NHS Digital, which oversees United Kingdom hospital cybersecurity, says the attack used the Wanna Decryptor variant of malware, which infects and locks computers while the attackers demand a ransom.

It said its hospitals had shut down all computer systems as a protective measure and canceled all non-urgent activity.

Shortly after the disclosure, Microsoft announced that it had already issued software patches for those holes.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at the Helsinki-based cybersecurity company F-Secure, called the attack "the biggest ransomware outbreak in history".

The central bank's IT attack monitoring centre "detected mass distribution of harmful software" but no "instances of compromise", it said. The NHS said the attack hadn't specifically.

Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said it had recorded at least 45,000 attacks in as many as 74 countries, including the USA, where its effects seemed muted. The onslaught forced hospitals to cancel or delay treatments for thousands of patients, even some with serious aliments like cancer. In addition to Russian Federation, the biggest targets appeared to be Ukraine and India, nations where it is common to find older, unpatched versions of Windows in use, according to the security firm.

The U.K.'s National Cyber Security Center was "working round the clock" to restore vital health services, while urging people to update security software fixes, run anti-virus software and back up their data elsewhere. But many companies and individuals haven't installed the fixes yet, or are using older versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports and didn't fix.

Chris Wysopal of the software security firm Veracode says criminal organizations are likely behind this, given how quickly the malware has spread.

Similar widespread attacks have been reported in Spain and other countries.

Patients have reported being turned away, while some are stuck at hospital without access to discharge data.

Krishna Chinthapalli, a doctor at Britain's National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery who wrote a paper on cybersecurity for the British Medical Journal, warned that British hospitals' old operating systems and store of confidential patient information made them an ideal target for blackmailers.

"For so many organisations in the same day to be hit, this is unprecedented", he said. Short of paying, options for these individuals and companies are usually limited to recovering data files from a backup, if available, or living without them.

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He said many NHS hospitals in Britain use Windows XP software, introduced in 2001, and as government funding for the health service has been squeezed "IT budgets are often one of the first ones to be reduced".

At least 16 National Health Service (NHS) organizations in Britain were hit by the ransomware attacks.

"Today, it happened to 10,000 computers", Eisen said.

This image provided by the Twitter page of @fendifille shows a computer at Greater Preston CCG as Britain's National Health Service is investigating "an issue with IT" Friday May 12, 2017.

"I would expect NHS trusts to learn from this and to make sure that they do upgrade", she said. Xinhua state news agency said some secondary schools and universities were hit.

Spain has activated a special protocol to protect critical infrastructure in response to the "massive infection" of personal and corporate computers targeted in ransomware cyberattacks.

The Spanish government said several companies had been targeted in ransomware cyberattack that affected the Windows operating system of employees' computers.

The railway said that there was no impact on actual train services.

Reports of attacks also came from Italy and Portugal, where the local Telecom company confirmed the attack.

Russia's Interior Ministry says it has come under cyberattack.

There were no details on which companies were targeted or the origin of the attack.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise around the world. In February 2016, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California said it had paid a $17,000 ransom to regain control of its computers from hackers.

Information for this article was contributed by Anick Jesdanun, Jill Lawless and Aritz Parra of The Associated Press; by Dan Bilefsky and Nicole Perlroth of The New York Times; and by Craig Timberg, Griff Witte and Karla Adam of The Washington Post.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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