You’ve had an accident and are rushed to an emergency room, only to be told to go someplace else. The ER isn’t full, so what’s the problem? The computers are down.
Or more accurately, someone sinister has brought down the hospital’s computers. This is happening to hospitals in Alabama and has already happened to major cities, corporations and universities. Even more disturbing, individuals can also be victims of ransomware.
The devious culprit is ransomware and the problem is becoming so widespread that the FBI has issued a warning. We have more information on the FBI warning, the situation in Alabama and other high-profile targets being hit with ransomware.
Taking hospital computers hostage
To become a cyber hostage, all it takes is for someone to open a malicious attachment in an email and the ransomware is unleashed. Once ransomware hackers get into a computer system, they compromise it so it can start receiving malicious commands from the attackers’ servers. The attackers then have control over the system.
The FBI has just issued a warning that the number of ransomware attacks has fallen in 2019 compared to 2018. However, the 2019 attacks are more costly than ever, possibly reaching $11 billion.
A hospital network in Alabama is the latest victim of a ransomware attack. Ransomware at DCH Health Systems Regional Medical Center, Northport Medical Center and Fayette Medical Center in western Alabama has encrypted the hospitals’ files and locked-down servers.
The hospitals are essentially shut down but they will admit critically ill patients, as well as caring for those who had already been admitted and are very ill. Doctors and nurses are resorting to using paper copies to update patient files. The hospital’s parent company says it is working with law enforcement, but will not share specifics of the investigation or what demands the hacker has made.
All ransomware attacks are bad, but those targeting hospitals are especially heinous. Highly sensitive and critical data needed to treat seriously ill patients is inaccessible. It’s not just happening in Alabama, there are several reports of ransomware striking hospitals across the country.
Ransomware affects cities and towns
Perhaps the most famous ransomware victim in 2019 is the city of Baltimore. The city has almost completely gotten out from under the hackers but at a cost of more than $10 million.
City officials estimate that Baltimore lost an additional $8 million during the time the city could not process payments. This figure is expected to rise as the city pays cybersecurity experts to help it avoid future attacks.
After the hackers took control of Baltimore’s city government servers with ransomware in May, online business was at a standstill. The public couldn’t make online payments to various city departments and government workers could not access emails.
Hackers demanded 13 Bitcoins, roughly $100,000 at the time, to free about 10,000 digitally seized computers. Heeding the FBI’s advice, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said the city wouldn’t pay the ransom.
On June 6, Young declared Baltimore’s government “open for business,” but some of Baltimore’s systems are operating through inefficient manual workarounds and the city’s water online billing system remains offline.
In April, ransomware hackers shut down city government servers in Greenville, North Carolina. In March, Norwegian metal and power specialist Norsk Hydro was attacked, causing the company to shut down much of its industrial operations.
Not all cities have heeded the FBI’s warning against paying hackers. This summer, hackers took control of municipal computers in three Florida cities; Key Biscayne, Lake City and Riviera Beach City. Lake City and Riviera Beach City paid the ransom and have still not gained access to all of the data the hackers encrypted.
Kay Biscayne officials have not revealed whether the city was hit by ransomware, merely calling it a “data security event.” Key Biscayne took its systems off-line and by June 26, all of its systems were back online.
Protection against ransomware
As an employee, the best thing you can do is not open attachments in emails or click any links. Phishing emails are very sophisticated, so an email can look like it came from a colleague or even your boss. If it seems sketchy, take a few seconds to call that person and confirm that they did send you the email.
As far as protecting your own home computer, here are some things you can do to protect yourself and your data:
- Never open risky links or attachments from unsolicited emails
- Make certain your system is up to date
- Ensure your browser is up to date
- Be cautious when opening emails
- Back up your data
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