One afternoon in late October, the information technology department at the University of Vermont Medical Center started receiving reports of glitching computer systems across its network.
Employees reported they were having trouble logging into business and clinical applications.
Some reported the systems weren’t working at all. Within a few hours, the IT department began to suspect the hospital was experiencing a cyberattack.
The possibility was very much on the IT team’s radar, as several other major hospital networks nationwide fell victim to cyberattacks earlier last fall.
Immediately, UVM Medical Center cut off all internet connections to the network to protect what data it could. Soon after, the department discovered a text file on a network computer, apparently left by the perpetrators of the attack.
“It basically said: ‘We encrypted your data; if you wanna get the key to un-encrypt it, contact us,’ ” explained Doug Gentile, senior VP of network information technology at the medical center. “There was no specific ransom note, no specific dollar amount or anything like that, it was just: ‘Here’s how you contact us.’ ”
The department immediately contacted the FBI and opted not to reach out to the attackers. “Even if you contact them, even if you pay them, you have no guarantee they’re gonna deliver anything,” Gentile said.
Over the ensuing weeks, UVM Medical Center worked closely with the FBI to investigate the source of the attack while the hospital operated without access to most of its data for several weeks.
“Of course we have standard procedures for if systems go down, but being down for two to three weeks is beyond what we ever expect. It was stressful for people,” Gentile said. The attack cost the hospital between $40 million and $50 million, mostly in lost revenue.
But it could have been worse.
“While it was a significant inconvenience and a big financial hit, the fact that no data was breached was huge,” Gentile said. When the cyberattack was discovered, hospital officials feared patient data could be stolen. Things like Social Security numbers, insurance information, and medical records were all on the line.
Often, in cases like…