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HSE continues its efforts to recover from ransomware cyber attack

DUBLIN: The HSE’s efforts to recover from the devastation caused by the largest cyber-attack in Irish history continue. Hospitals have returned to the old paper and pen system as backups for treatment are not available. Indications are that it may take weeks to recover. Meanwhile, the government has warned that the stolen medical data could be misused by cyber criminals.

The government said in a statement that the cyber-attack, which targeted critical health infrastructure and patient sensitive data, was a heinous crime.

The government’s health and security arms have been trying to get the situation under control since Friday, when the HSE confirmed that IT systems had been hacked.

The Rotunda Maternity Hospital’s Master announced on Friday that its IT system was down and that it would be running on a “traditional,” paper-based system until further notice. It was then found that the problem affected the entire HSE IT system. As a precaution, HSE decided to shut down all national and local IT systems.

Around 86,000 computers have been turned off. The security team evaluates the level of access gained in the attack using 2,000 systems within the HSE. The HSE’s main worry is that its patient system and radiation diagnostic system ‘Nimis’, are down.

Major impact on radiation appointments and outpatient appointments

X-ray appointments and paediatric services were disrupted. Hospital outpatient appointments in the west were severely affected. Hospitals such as the Mater, Beaumont, James’, Vincent’s, Tallaght, Mercy, and South Infirmary use a different IT system and were thus affected less.

Beaumont and Connolly appointments are functioning smoothly but radiology has been affected. All outpatient appointments were canceled in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and Galway. The situation is no different in children’s health appointments.

Appointments at Crumlin, Temple Street, and Tallaght were also cancelled. Almost all radiation appointments, including X-ray, MRI, and CT scans, have been cancelled due to the need for computers to assess scans.

It is still unclear what data hackers gained access to

The HSE openly states that it is still unclear what data hackers obtained access to, whether it was administrative data, patient data, or staff data. The HSE said the IT systems were hit by a Conti ransomware attack, and that cyber criminals demanded a ransom to avoid the data from being published online.

The government said in a statement that the attack was carried out by an international cyber-crime gang. “It is aimed at nothing other than extorting money and those who carried it out have no concern for the severe impact on patients needing care or for the privacy of those whose private information has been stolen,” the satement said.

“These ransomware attacks are despicable crimes, most especially when they target critical health infrastructure and sensitive patient data. The significant disruption to health services is to be condemned, especially at this time.

“Any public release by the criminals behind this attack of any stolen patient data is equally and utterly contemptible. There is a risk that the medical and other data of patients will be abused. Anyone who is affected is urged to contact the HSE and Garda authorities,” it added.

Intensive efforts to tackle the attack

The government said that hundreds of people had been assigned to tackle the cyber-attack. Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys discussed about the attack with Garda Commissioner and Garda Cybercrime Bureau Chief Superintendent Paul Clearly. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told Minister Humphries that An Garda Síochána fully supports the National Cyber Security Centre.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Minister of State for Communications Ossian Smyth also met yesterday to discuss the issue.

An “immediate meeting” of the Oireachtas Transport and Communications Networks committee, the Department of Communications and the National Cyber Security Centre was held this morning to discuss the issue. There are signs that this very serious issue might spark a political controversy.

“Tens of millions” to fix and rebuild

HSE CEO Paul Reid said it would cost “tens of millions” to fix and rebuild the HSE’s IT system from ‘clean’, back-up data. The HSE’s website will be updated every hour with information about what health services are still available at which hospitals.

The statement from Government this evening said: “The HSE is continuing the make the necessary arrangements in the interim to provide the maximum possible availability of services to patients across the State.

“While the process will, inevitably, take some time, the HSE and its partners are working to ensure that the maintenance and restoration of care for patients can progress in the coming days.”

Mr. Reid said that progress had been made in going through all of the HSE’s systems and clearing them out one by one.

Speculation over ransom

Meanwhile, there are speculation about the ransom demanded by cyber criminals. The Business Post reported that hackers demanded three bitcoins, or $ 150,000, while the tech website Bleeping Computer reported $ 20 million. However, the government has made no statement in this regard.

Concern in other countries as well  

The cyber-attack in Ireland is now being discussed in news media all over the world. Even some Indian media outlets have raised the issue and warned of ransomware attacks. Ransomware cyber-attacks have been reported in many countries during the COVID period.

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