Ransomware: NHS Patients Held Captive

For most of the patients in England and Scotland looking forward to a relatively smooth day at their hospitals, the past few hours have been harrowing. An International Cyber attack (Ransomware) has hit the National Health Services (NHS) and has crippled the daily operations at a number of hospitals. Many patients have been held captive due to the freezing of services, and hospitals are struggling to provide vital healthcare.

While many patients had their operations cancelled at the last minute, others have been told to stay away if possible except in cases of dire emergency. Some of the doctors in London have also complained about being unable to do basic X-rays, or even the most basic services for their patients. The ransomware attacks have also frozen the essential IT components which store patient data and the hackers have asked for a ransom of $300 in Bitcoin for release of the patient files. Since patient health records, blood tests, and allergies are all stored in the computers, the blackout has adversely affected the medical services across the country.

The worst sufferers have been the patients. Some who were waiting for their surgery operations were informed that they had been cancelled. Many of the patients in the maternity wards were unable to get discharged due to the computer systems crashing, while others were unable to get much needed transfers as the cyber attack had put everything on hold. Some patients also had their operations cancelled at the last minute as the staff were ordered not to touch their computers. Almost all the doctors resorted to old school pen and paper charting, with no access to the medical history of the patients or their various allergies.

The NHS and the Government have been questioned over why the hospitals were left vulnerable due to the antiquated computer systems. The ransomware attack is already being described as the biggest ransomware attack in the world as it has affected around 100 countries.

The NHS has released a statement saying that they had no evidence of patients’ medical records being accessed but were unsure of whether the hackers, who have threatened to delete patient information unless they receive their payment within a week, had the ability to destroy patient records.

It is believed that a hacking group known as the Shadow Brokers, which has links with Russia, was partly responsible. While Microsoft had sent free security software to protect the computers in March of 2017, it had not been updated in the hospital computer systems. Microsoft has released a statement saying that it would push out automatic Windows updates to defend clients from Ransomware.

Prime Minister Theresa May has described the attack as an international attack that has affected many organizations and countries such as Spain and FedEx. She has also assured that the “The National Cyber Security Centre was working closely with NHS Digital to ensure that they support the organizations concerned and that they protect patient safety”. This Ransomware attack follows the cyber attacks of Yahoo in 2013 and Sony in 2014.

The pressure is on at the hospitals and is expected to worsen over the weekend. While the government agencies are hard at work to restore the services for the patients, the doctors have described the situation in the hospitals as primitive. Though the Ransomware was directed at the hospitals, the real captives have been the suffering patients.

Jon Buck
Jon Buck
Jon Buck is based in Delhi, India. He enjoys researching, analyzing, and commenting on the cutting edge of the technology world, as well as palak paneer with veg fried rice.

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