As we computerize everything, security is ever more important. Unfortunately, the pace of large institutions, public and private, is extremely slow, meaning that long term, many of them are vulnerable to attack. Usually, however, that’s not a life or death situation. But it appears some hackers are using ransomware to hold real human lives hostage.
The New York Times is reporting that Britain’s National Health Service, or NHS, is seeing a ransomware attack on at least 16 hospitals. Ransomware usually encrypts files or otherwise denies access to them and won’t open the files unless the victim provides some sort of financial compensation, generally Bitcoin. It’s not clear yet whether this was a targeted attack, or simply malware that happened to break loose on a public network. Similar attacks have been reported on telephone companies in Spain and Portugal (targeted to internal networks), but it’s unclear if the incidents are related.
The result has been chaotic, with reports of ambulances backing up at emergency rooms and patient files being completely inaccessible. This puts patients at enormous risk because there’s no guarantee that pen-and-paper notes from doctors reflect the same data as the digital notes. While no deaths or injuries have been reported yet, delays in medical care, or incorrect medical care, might wind up causing enormous damage. British cybersecurity authorities are hard at work breaking the code, and hopefully, it’ll be restored sooner rather than later.
(via The New York Times)