A major hospital chain has been hit by what could turn out to be one of the largest medical cyberattacks ever seen in United States history.
Computer systems for Universal Health Services, which has more than 400 locations, primarily in the U.S., began to fail over the weekend, and some hospitals have had to resort to filing patient information using pen and paper, according to IT support technicians.
Universal Health Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but posted a statement to its website that its company-wide network “is currently offline, due to an IT security issue. One IT staff member, who was not authorized to speak to the press, said that the attack “looks and smells like ransomware.” If proved correct then it is in the same vein as the attack on German hospital a few weeks ago that resulted in the death a woman patient- the first of its kind.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that spreads across computer networks, encrypting files and demanding payment for a key to decrypt them. It’s become a common tactic for hackers, though attacks of this scale against medical facilities aren’t common.
Hackers seeking to deploy ransomware often wait until the weekend, when a company is likely to not have as many technical staff members present.
Two Universal Health Services nurses, who requested to not be named because they weren’t authorized by the company to speak with the media, said that the attack began over the weekend and had left the medical staff to work with pen and paper.
One of the nurses, who works in a facility in North Dakota, said that computers slowed and then eventually simply would not turn on in the early hours of Sunday morning. “As of this a.m., all the computers are down completely,” the nurse said.
Another registered nurse at a facility in Arizona who worked this weekend said: “the computer just started shutting down on its own.”
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