Irish Hospitals Are Latest to Be Hit by Ransomware Attacks

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A cyberattack on Ireland’s health system has paralyzed the country’s health services for a week, cutting off access to patient records, delaying Covid-19 testing, and forcing cancellations of medical appointments.

Using ransomware, which is malware that encrypts a victims’ data until they pay a ransom, the people behind the attack have been holding hostage the data at Ireland’s publicly funded health care system, the Health Service Executive. The attack forced the H.S.E. to shut down its entire information technology system.

In a media briefing on Thursday, Paul Reid, chief executive of the H.S.E., said the attack was “stomach churning.”

Caroline Kohn, a spokeswoman for a group of hospitals in the eastern part of the country, said the hospitals were forced to keep all of their records on paper. “We’re back to the 1970s,” she said.

Security researchers believe the attack on Ireland’s hospitals is the work of a Russian-speaking cybercriminal group known as Wizard Spider. In a ransom note posted online, the criminals have threatened to publish the health network’s stolen data, unless officials pay a $19,999,000 ransom.

Ireland’s prime minister, Micheál Martin, said the government would not pay. “We’re very clear we will not be paying any ransom,” he said in a news conference last week.

Mr. Reid said the impact would be felt for many weeks. “This is not a short sprint,” Mr. Reid said. “This is going to be a sustained period impact.”

The attack is the latest in a surge of ransomware attacks on hospitals around the world in recent weeks.

In California, Scripps Health, which operates five hospitals and a number of clinics in San Diego, is still trying to bring its systems back online two weeks after a ransomware attack crippled its data. In New Zealand, a ransomware attack paralyzed multiple hospitals across the country, forcing clinicians to use pen and paper, and postponing nonelective surgeries.

Late last year, a ransomware attack on the University of Vermont’s Medical Center upended the lives of cancer patients whose chemotherapy treatments had to be delayed or recreated from memory.

The attacks come on top of a similar ransomware attack on Colonial…