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Large Cyber-Attack on UK Hospitals and NHS Disrupts Healthcare Service



In all, 47 NIH trusts were affected by the attack, including Barts Health in London and Essex Partnership university NHS trusts.

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May 16, 2017 | by Sarah Hand, M.Sc.

A large-scale cyber-attack has hit a number of National Health Service (NIH) run hospitals in the UK, disrupting service and prompting healthcare workers to postpone non-emergency procedures. In all, 47 NIH trusts were affected by the attack, including Barts Health in London and Essex Partnership university NHS trusts.

The ransomware program, known as Wanna Decryptor or WannaCry, has reportedly infected as many as 70,000 devices in England and Scotland, effectively limiting the use of vital devices including computers, MRI equipment and surgical tools. Primarily affecting devices running older, unsupported versions of Windows, the program requires users to pay a ransom of $300 worth of Bitcoin per machine to decrypt the devices and allow users to access patient data.

But the NHS isn’t the only organization to be affected by the cyber-attack; over 200,000 machines in 150 countries have been hit by the hackers. Notable companies and institutions who have been infected include FedEx and MIT in the US, as well as Beijing-based PetroChina, and Telefónica in Spain.

“Since the global coordinated ransomware attack on thousands of private and public sector organizations across dozens of countries on Friday, there have been no sustained new attacks of that kind,” said the UK’s National Cyber Security Center in their most recent statement on the attack. “But it is important to understand that the way these attacks work means that compromises of machines and networks that have already occurred may not yet have been detected, and that existing infections from the malware can spread within networks. This means that as a new working week begins it is likely, in the UK and elsewhere, that further cases of ransomware may come to light, possibly at a significant scale.”

While it’s believed that patient health data has not been stolen by the hackers, investigations into the attack are still ongoing. “We are very aware that attacks on critical services such as the NHS have a massive impact on individuals and their families, and we are doing everything in our power to help them restore these vital services,” said Ciaran Martin, CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre.

While Microsoft released a patch to fix the vulnerability of these devices to malware in advance of the cyber-attack, many affected organizations were slow to download the updates. The UK government is coming under fire for cutting funding to the NIHS’s budget for IT services, and forcing NIH-run hospitals to rely on older versions of Microsoft’s operating software, such as Windows XP.

Keywords:  Cyber Security, Patient Data, Healthcare


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