WASHINGTON – A computer outage at a large hospital chain sent healthcare facilities in the United States into chaos on Monday, with treatment prevented as doctors and nurses already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic were forced to rely on paper-based backup systems.
Universal Health Services Inc., which operates more than 250 hospitals and other clinical facilities in the United States, blamed the discontinuation for an unspecified IT “security problem”
UHS workers reached by the Associated Press at corporate facilities in Texas and Washington, DC, described insane riots after the hiatus began overnight Sunday to provide assistance, including long waits in the emergency room and anxiety to determine which patients could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
SHOPIFY VIOLATION OF DATA BY “ROGUE” EMPLOYEES EXPOSED ALMOST 200 TRADERS; CUSTOMERS POTENTIALLY AT RISK
Fortune 500 company, with 90,000 employees, said that “patient care continues to be provided safely and effectively” and that no patient or employee data appears to have been “read, copied or misused” . The King of Prussia, Pennsylvania company also has hospitals in the UK, but its operations in that country were unaffected, a spokeswoman said Monday evening.
John Riggi, a senior cybersecurity consultant at the American Hospital Association, called it a “suspected ransomware attack,” stating that on the social media site Reddit, people identify themselves as UHS employees. BleepingComputer, an online cybersecurity news site, spoke to UHS employees who described the Ryuk-like ransomware, widely linked to Russian cybercriminals and used against large corporations.
Criminals increasingly targeted healthcare institutions with ransomware during the pandemic, infecting networks with malicious code that encodes data. To unlock it, they require payment.
Increasingly, ransomware vendors download data from networks before encrypting targeted servers, using them for extortion. Earlier this month, the first known death related to ransomware occurred in Duesseldorf, Germany, after an attack caused IT systems to malfunction and a critically ill patient in need of urgent hospitalization died after being was taken to another city for treatment.
WHY THE NEXT FIGHT FOR HEALTH CARE WILL BE EXCEEDED AT THE HIGH PRICE OF CARE
UHS may not be a household name, but it has US hospitals from Washington, DC, to Fremont, California, and Orlando, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska. Some of its facilities provide care for people facing psychiatric conditions and substance abuse problems.
A doctor involved in direct patient care at a Washington UHC facility described a high-anxiety rush to manage the loss of computers and some phones. This meant that medical personnel could not easily see lab results, image scans, drug lists, and other critical information that doctors rely on to make decisions. Telephone problems complicated the situation, making communication with nurses more difficult. Laboratory orders had to be delivered by hand.
“These things could be life or death,” the doctor said.
Another UHS health care worker, at an acute care facility in Texas, described an even more chaotic scene. Both Texas and Washington D.C. workers they asked not to be identified by name because they were not allowed to speak publicly.
“We currently have no access to patient files, no history,” the Texas worker said, with waiting times in the emergency room ranging from 45 minutes to six hours. “Doctors are unable to access any kind of X-rays, CT scans.”
JOHNSON & JOHNSON’S COVID-19 CANDIDATE ENTERS THE THIRD TEST PHASE
Nothing that only works with Wi-Fi worked on Monday, the Texas worker said. Telemetry monitors showing the heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels of ICU patients went blank and had to be reset with an Ethernet cabling.
The Washington clinician said there was a lot of concern over how to determine whether or not patients had been exposed to the coronavirus, the Washington doctor said, adding that no harm came to any of the approximately 20 patients they witnessed. However, anxiety reigned throughout the entire shift. Moving a patient to another ward, which is always a delicate task due to the potential for communication problems, has become particularly unnerving.
“We are most concerned about ransomware attacks that have the potential to disrupt patient care operations and put patient safety at risk,” said Riggi, hospital cybersecurity consultant. “We believe that any cyber attack against any hospital or healthcare system is a threat to life. Crime and should be addressed and prosecuted as such by the government.”
GET THE FOX BUSINESS ON THE GO BY CLICKING HERE
The ransomware attacks have paralyzed everything from big cities to school districts, and federal officials fear they could be used to disrupt the current presidential election. Last week, Tyler Technologies, a major software service provider to state, county and local governments, was hit.
In the United States alone, 764 healthcare workers were victims of ransomware last year, according to data compiled by cybersecurity firm Emsisoft. It estimates the total cost of ransomware attacks in the United States at $ 9 billion per year in recovery and lost productivity. The only way to effectively recover, for those unwilling to pay the ransom, is through diligent daily system data backups.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT FOX BUSINESS
Bajak reported from Boston.