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News ▶ General
Hollywood Hospital Hacked

Malware locked staff out

A nightmare scenario which sounds like it came straight out of the pages of some new Hollywood blockbuster just happened for real, in Hollywood. On Feb 5th a hacker locked staff out of a hospital computer and demanded a ransom before letting them back in.

The hospital was the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, and the staff were locked out via the use of malware which encrypted the data on the infected computers. Only the hacker could release the data by giving the hospital the unique key used to scramble it.

Chief Executive Allen Stefanek said the quickest and most efficient way to restore normal operations was to pay the ransom. The hacker was undoubtedly relying on the fact this was a hospital, and would have to do whatever it took to get back up and running as quickly as possible.

Pay with BitCoin

The anonymous nature of BitCoin was exploited in order to thwart the hackers identity.

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The ransom was 40 BitCoin, which amounted to $17,000. From the start of the attack until normal operations were resumed took 10 days. The hospital paid the ransom and then alerted the FBI.

Patient care was not affected by the attack, and there is no evidence patient records have been compromised.

Hospital "back to pen and paper"

Phil Lieberman, a cybersecurity expert, said that, while ransomware attacks are common, targeting a medical institution is not.

“I have never heard of this kind of attack trying to shut down a hospital. This puts lives at risk, and it is sickening to see such an act,” he said. “Health management systems are beginning to tighten their security.” 

Nearly a quarter (24.6%) of organisations said in a survey released in January that they would be willing to pay a ransom to prevent a cyberattack. The problem with paying ransom is that it doesn’t guarantee attackers won’t target your again, given that you proved willing to fork over the money the first time around. In terms of prevention, ransomware often begins with a spam message that includes a malicious attachment. In the hospital’s case, Stefanek said a team of experts is working to “understand more about this event.”