Universal Health Systems Hit by Ransomware Attack

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in News October 01, 2020
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Universal Health Systems (UHS), a Fortune 500 company owning more than 400 hospitals across the country, was hit by a ransomware attack this past weekend. Cybersecurity experts are calling it the most massive cyberattack in United States history. 

400 Hospitals Without Computers

Although UHS declined to publicly confirm that it was a ransomware attack, one employee hinted that the security issue was identified as ransomware called Ryuk. They also mentioned that a ransom note appeared on all the computers signed by “Shadow of the Universe.” This unidentified source also said that all the network files were encrypted and appended with a .RYK extension, another indication of Ryuk.

Over the weekend, UHS computer systems all over the country began to shut down, and hospitals, physicians, and support staff had to resort to using manual systems (pen and paper). With no access to computer records or networks, healthcare in these locations quickly screeched to a halt. 

Nurses in North Dakota who unofficially spoke with NBC News told them that computers started slowing down and then just shut off by themselves. It was extremely challenging working without any technical resources. Another Arizona nurse admitted that their entire medication system was online, which created further complications. The entire hospital had to resort to hand-labeling medications, that may result in a nightmare later. 

How is UHS Responding?

On Monday, UHS officially responded with, “The IT Network across Universal Health Services (UHS) facilities is currently offline, due to an IT security issue. We implement extensive IT security protocols and are working diligently with our IT security partners to restore IT operations as quickly as possible. In the meantime, our facilities are using their established back-up processes, including offline documentation methods. Patient care continues to be delivered safely and effectively.”

They went on to assure the public that “No patient or employee data appears to have been accessed, copied or otherwise compromised.” However, in other similar attacks, patient data is a common target for identity theft and fraud. 

The Attack on Healthcare and the Far-Reaching Effects

Rumors on Reddit flooded the internet with stories of deaths in nearby hospitals because of patient care delays. Facilities had to courier labs between locations, and some hospitals even turned away ambulances forcing them to re-route to alternate healthcare facilities. 

Medical staff had to quickly re-learn how to keep manual records on top of the overreaching COVID crisis, which further slowed down their ability to provide care.

Earlier this month, a patient in Germany died because of a ransomware attack. Attacks on healthcare are nothing new, but this latest is the largest in a long string of increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks with devastating results for patients and staff.

Significant delays in patient care are one of the most alarming aspects of these attacks. When doctors and nurses cannot access labs, x-rays, and computer-related information, patient care delays could cost lives. UHS has assured the public that “Patient care continues to be delivered safely and effectively.” However, unofficial sources all over the internet belied this statement with accounts of patients dying as a direct result of not having access to computer records. 

The Current State of UHS

By Tuesday, IT experts were still working hard to get all of UHS’ computer systems back online. A spokesperson confirmed that “We are making steady progress with recovery efforts. Certain applications have already started coming online again, with others projected to be restored on a rolling basis across the U.S.”

As a proactive measure UHS’ IT department shut down the entire network until everything has been restored and secured. Some surgeons at affected hospitals have canceled non-emergency procedures because getting manual files is too time-consuming, and rather than risk lives, the option to wait seems like a safer bet.

Time will tell if this attack has any far-reaching consequences or is just the tip of the iceberg leading to something more sinister down the road.


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