Hospital computers across England hacked; cyber criminals demanding ransom

The cyberinfrastructure at hospitals across England has come under a massive cyber attack locking out the staff from their computers and diverting emergency patients. According to The Guardian, National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the country have been hit with an attack displaying popups on the system demanding ransom money.

Doctors have taken the issue on Twitter posting screenshots of their systems showing a ransom note demanding a $300 worth of bitcoin. According to the note:

  • Your important files are encrypted. Many of your documents, photos, videos, database and other files are no longer accessible because they have been encrypted. Maybe you are busy looking for a way to recover your files but do not waste your time. Nobody can recover your file without our decryption service.”

The note also shows that the system has been infected with WannaCry ransomware decryptor Virus, a dangerous cryptovirus spotted by security researchers a couple of months ago. It is unclear how this virus got into the hospitals’ systems; quite possibly it is as a result of someone falling foul of a phishing scam and may have executed a file infected whatever came its way.

Currently, the affected hospitals include Barts Health in London, East and North Hertfordshire NHS trust, Blackpool teaching hospital NHS foundation trust and Essex Partnership university NHS trusts.

A screenshot of an instant message conversation circulated by one doctor says: “So our hospital is down … We got a message saying your computers are now under their control and pay a certain amount of money. And now everything is gone.”

“Immediately on the discovery of the problem, the trust acted to protect its IT systems by shutting them down; it also meant that the trust’s telephone system is not able to accept incoming calls.

“The trust is postponing all non-urgent activity for today and is asking people not to come to A&E.”

An NHS source told the Evening Standard the attack “seems to be growing” with more incidents of hospitals across Britain facing IT problems being reported.

“At approximately 12:30 pm we experienced a problem with our email servers crashing. Following this a lot of our clinical systems and patient systems were reported to have gone down,” an NHS IT worker said in a message to a Guardian reporter.

“A bitcoin pop-up message had been introduced onto the network asking users to pay $300 to be able to access their PCs. You cannot get past this screen.

“This followed an internal major incident being declared and advised all staff to shut down all PCs in the trust and await further instructions.”

This is not the first time when a healthcare system has come under ransomware attack. In fact, the healthcare industry is being regularly targeted by cyber criminals all over the world. Last year, Hollywood HealthCare Facility had its system compromised and to unlock the system hackers demanded $3.6M (9000 BTC) as ransom.

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Waqas Amir is a Milan-based cybersecurity journalist with a passion for covering latest happenings in cyber security and tech world. In addition to being the founder of this website, Waqas is also into gaming, reading and investigative journalism.