Hospital paid ransomware outfit

hospitalA California hospital which paid $17,000 in ransom to hackers to regain control of its computer system has told the world of its plight.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center relented to the demands, President Allen Stefanek said, because he believed it was the “quickest and most efficient way” to free the Los Angeles hospital’s network, which was paralyzed for about 10 days.

Hospitals and security experts fear that the announcement would embolden hackers to launch more “ransomware” attacks and there were calls in California for tougher laws.

California State Senator Robert Hertzberg, who yesterday  introduced legislation to make a ransomware attack equivalent to extortion and punishable by up to four years in prison said the case was no different from taking all the patients and held them in one room at gunpoint.

Usually embarrassment and a desire to discourage hackers keep attacked companies quiet. Hollywood Presbyterian did not say why it made the disclosure, but its hand may have been forced by spreading rumors a week after the hack. Stefanek confirmed the cyber attack after at least one doctor appeared to have told local media.

He  disputed media reports the 434-bed hospital had faced a ransom demand of $3.4 million, far more than the amount paid in the hard-to-trace cyber-currency bitcoin.

The hack at Hollywood Presbyterian forced doctors to use pen and paper in an age of computerisation. News reports said its fax lines were jammed because normal e-mail communication was unavailable, and some emergency patients had to be diverted to other hospitals.

Medical facilities in the area plan to consult cyber security experts on how to protect themselves, the Hospital Association of Southern California said. “Hospitals are certainly now aware of ransomware more than they ever were before, and this has become a very real threat,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Bayer.

Some experts said ransomware encryption can be so hard to crack that victims feel they have little choice but to pay if they want their systems back. The hackers’ success could also prompt other hospitals to make quick payments to avoid the disruption and bad publicity Hollywood Presbyterian faced.