England's NHS hit by a large-scale cyber-attack

2017-05-12 19:59
In this posed picture photograph, a woman points to the website of the NHS: East and North Hertfordshire notifying users of a problem in its network, in London on May 12, 2017. (AFP)

In this posed picture photograph, a woman points to the website of the NHS: East and North Hertfordshire notifying users of a problem in its network, in London on May 12, 2017. (AFP)

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London – Hospitals across England have been hit by a large-scale cyber-attack, the country’s National Health Service (NHS) has confirmed on Friday.

The ransomware attack led to staff being locked out of their computers and forced many trusts to divert emergency patients.

Although an investigation is still at an early stage, the institution said in a statement that it believes the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor - a type of malware designed to extort money from victims by holding files or entire computers to ransom, according to Wired

"A number of NHS organisations have reported to NHS Digital that they have been affected by a ransomware attack.

"The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor."

The institution further explained that the attack was not specifically targeted at the health institution, but other organisations from a range of sectors.

In a statement released by NHS Digital, an “arms-length body” of England’s health department, it is not yet clear that patients’ data has been accessed, adding that the institution is still working work other security agencies to ensure that patients’ data are protected. 

"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. NHS Digital is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Health and NHS England to support affected organisations and ensure patient safety is protected.

"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."

According to Wired, the “ransomware typically demands payment to undo changes that the Trojan virus has made to the victim’s computer, which range from encrypting data stored on the victim’s disk to blocking normal access”, adding that "it encrypts users files using AES and RSA encryption ciphers meaning the hackers can directly decrypt system files using a unique decryption key."

'Massive infection' 

Spain, meanwhile, activated a special protocol to protect critical infrastructure in response to the "massive infection" of personal and corporate computers in ransomware attacks, AP reported.

The Spanish government said several companies had been targeted in ransomware cyberattack that affected the Windows operating system of employees' computers. It said the attacks were carried out with a version of WannaCry ransomware that encrypted files and prompted a demand for money transfers to free up the system.

Spain's Telefonica was among the companies hit.

Spain's National Center for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure said it was communicating with more than 100 providers of energy, transportation, telecommunications and financial services about the attack even if basic services had not suffered any disruption.

In the UK, hospitals in London, northwest England and other parts of the country reported problems and asked patients not to come to the hospitals unless it was an emergency. Most of the affected hospitals were in England, but several facilities in Scotland also reported being hit.

NHS Merseyside, which operates several hospitals in northwest England, tweeted that "following a suspected national cyberattack, we are taking all precautionary measures possible to protect our local NHS systems and services."

East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs hospitals in an area north of London, said "the trust has experienced a major IT problem, believed to be caused by a cyberattack."

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

Bart's Health, which runs several London hospitals, said it had activated its major incident plan, cancelling routine appointments and diverting ambulances to neighboring hospitals.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ electronic intelligence agency, said it was working with police and the health system to investigate the attack.

British government officials and intelligence chiefs have repeatedly highlighted the threat to critical infrastructure and the economy from cyberattacks. The National Cyber Security Centre said it had detected 188 "high-level" attacks in just three months, AP reported.

Britain's National Health Service is a source of pride for many Britons but faces substantial budget issues and has had previous problems with its huge IT system.

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.

Krishna Chinthapalli, a registrar at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, warned that British hospitals' old operating systems and store of confidential patient information made them an ideal target for blackmailers.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he said: "We should be prepared: more hospitals will almost certainly be shut down by ransomware this year." 



Read more on:    uk  |  cyber attack

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