Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Hospital Pays Ransom to Hackers after Attack ; California Medical Center Agrees to $17,000 Fee to Unlock Its Critical Systems

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Hospital Pays Ransom to Hackers after Attack ; California Medical Center Agrees to $17,000 Fee to Unlock Its Critical Systems

Article excerpt

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was locked out of its own computer systems for two weeks, until it paid a ransom. It is not the first.

It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood thriller, but the all-too- real scenario played out this month at a large Los Angeles hospital: Hackers seized control of critical computer systems, and the hospital paid a $17,000 ransom to release them.

So-called ransomware attacks have increased significantly in the past year, security experts say, and the hospital, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, is not the first to fall victim.

The Titus Regional Medical Center, a small hospital in Mount Pleasant, Tex., experienced a similar attack last month that knocked its core electronic medical record system offline. It, too, paid the ransom, according to Shannon Norfleet, a hospital spokeswoman.

Those in the security industry say such attacks are becoming more prevalent but are rarely made public.

"We get over 100 calls and emails a month from different organizations that have had some form of ransomware impact their environment," said Charles Carmakal, who oversees breach investigations for clients of Mandiant, a consulting unit of the security firm FireEye. "Nobody talks to the media about it."

In a statement on Wednesday, Allen Stefanek, the president of Hollywood Presbyterian, described his hospital's two-week fight to regain control of its data after a malware attack was detected on Feb. 5. The attack did not disrupt medical care or compromise the personal information of employees or patients, he said. Instead, it blocked hospital employees from using email and other forms of electronic communication by using encryption to lock them out of the system.

Mr. Stefanek said administrators were told that if they wanted to regain network access, they would have to pay the attackers, who would then give them the decryption key. Mr. Stefanek said the hospital had contacted the authorities when the malware attack was first detected.

"The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key," Mr. …

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