Modern medicine in the Washington area reverted to 1960s-era paper systems when one of the largest hospital chains was crippled by a virus that shuttered its computers for patients and medical staff.
The FBI said it was investigating the paralyzing attack on MedStar Health Inc., which forced records systems offline, prevented patients from booking appointments, and left staff unable to check email messages or even look up phone numbers.
The incident was the latest against U.S. medical providers, coming weeks after a California hospital paid ransom to free its infected systems using the bitcoin currency. A law enforcement official, who declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the FBI was assessing whether a similar situation occurred at MedStar.
“We can’t do anything at all. There’s only one system we use, and now it’s just paper,” said one MedStar employee who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak with reporters.
“People view this, I think, as a form of terrorism and are attempting to extort money by attempting to infect them with this type of virus,” he said.
Alcorta said his agency first learned of MedStar’s problems about 10:30 a.m., when the company’s Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore called in a request to divert emergency medical services traffic from that facility. He said that was followed by a similar request from Union Memorial, another MedStar hospital in Baltimore. The diversions were lifted as the hospitals’ backup systems started operating, he said.
Some staff said they were made aware of the virus earlier, being ordered to shut off their computers entirely by late morning. One Twitter user posted a picture Monday he said showed blacked-out computer screens inside the emergency room of Washington Hospital Center, a trauma centre in Northwest Washington.
Hospitals are considered critical infrastructure, but unless patient data is affected, there is no requirement to disclose such hackings even if operations are disrupted.
Computer security of the hospital industry is generally regarded as poor, and the federal Health and Human Services Department regularly publishes a list of health care providers that have been hacked with patient information stolen. The agency said Monday it was aware of the MedStar incident.
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