Cyberattack Hits England's National Health Service With Ransom Demands

Francis Harris
May 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Computers across the world were locked up Friday and users' files held for ransom when dozens of countries were hit in a cyber-extortion attack that targeted hospitals, companies and government agencies.

A cyber attack which hit Britain's National Health Service (NHS) was declared as a major incident Friday night, with British Prime Minister Theresa May saying it was an worldwide attack.

"The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor. A number of countries and organizations have been affected". In a statement released around 11:30 a.m. ET, the system's digital office said, "This attack was not specifically targeted at the NHS and is affecting organizations from across a range of sectors". The group said it has recorded more than 45,000 attacks from the ransomware program from 74 countries around the world.

Most of the affected hospitals were in England, but several facilities in Scotland also reported being hit.

"Purported screenshots showed the cyber attacker asking for "$300 worth of bitcoin", a form of digital currency, to be sent to a certain online address.

"We have activated our major incident plan to make sure we can maintain the safety and welfare of patients", the spokesman said.

A spokesman for King's Mill Hospital's Sherwood Forest Hospitals trust said staff had been told to shut down all computers to prevent or reduce the impact of any hack.

"I just hope they (the victims) have a good backup of those systems", Culler said.

A ransomware attack is quickly spreading across the globe rendering vital systems inaccessible. In addition to Russian Federation, the biggest targets appeared to be Ukraine and India, nations where it is common to find older, unpatched versions of Windows in use, according to the security firm.

Among the many other institutions that were affected were hospitals and telecommunications companies across Europe, Russia, Asia and beyond, according to MalwareHunterTeam, a security firm that tracks ransomware attacks. Some ransomware that encrypts files ups the stakes after a few days, demanding more money and threatening to delete files altogether.

The attack is causing canceled procedures and appointments at hospitals across England.

Senior officials at the "highest levels" of the U.S. government met late Friday to see what, if anything, they could do to stop the attacks and confront the potential for it to proliferate inside the U.S. One official said "American companies may fare better than those overseas because they are better at cyber hygiene".

NHS Digital says 16 NHS organizations report being hit.

Meanwhile, officials with the Department of Health and Human Services said there was "evidence" of an attack in the U.S.

Another NHS Trust in Derbyshire tweeted: "We are aware of a major IT secure system attack". The company said its systems hadn't been affected, according to Reuters.

"Let's hope that the attack on the National Health Service in Britain is simply a matter of inconvenience, and that nobody is denied essential care", he said in an email to FierceHealthcare.

The statement said there were thousands of cyberattacks daily "and Romania is no exception".

"Looking at the trends, it was going to happen", he said.

After the attack left medical providers in the United Kingdom scrambling to deliver vital services either without using computers or with machines that limped through the day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement saying it's working to understand the threat and protect America's medical systems.

North Derbyshire CCG said it was taking action, but GP surgeries in the area told the BBC they had not been affected.

Other reports by TheDigitalNewspaper

Discuss This Article