A large scale cyber attack has hit a number of hospitals in England. Staff have been locked out of computers and trusts are “postponing all non-urgent activity”. As of 3.30pm at least 16 NHS organizations had been affected.The list of confirmed breached hospitals keeps growing and currently include those run by East and North Hertfordshire NHS trust, Barts Health in London, Essex Partnership university NHS trusts, Morecambe Bay NHS foundation trust, Southport and Ormskirk hospital NHS trust and Blackpool teaching hospital NHS foundation trust. “The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor,” NHS Digital said in a statement. “At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed. We will continue to work with affected organisations to confirm this.”The details are still unclear, but in typical ransomware attacks the attacker finds a way to gain access to the IT systems. Once they have control, they then encrypt all the data stored in the system so that the normal users cannot gain access. A message then appears on screen saying that to regain access to the system, the owner must pay a ransom.Hackers normally insist that the ransom is paid in the digital currency Bitcoin so that they can remain anonymous. Until this is paid, the affected infrastructure will be off limits. For a hospital, this could mean no access to patient files, or internet connected medical devices like some MRI or x-ray scanners.McCrillis says that it may be possible to limit the impact of the attack by disconnecting computer systems from the infected network. “You want to start by isolating critical systems,” he says, including any patient-care devices such that may be connected to the network. The hackers tend to be more interested in making a quick buck than a political statement, McCrillis says, so ransomware attacks are often carried out by criminal syndicates based in Eastern Europe. “They even have customer service lines to help affected people pay as quickly as possible,” he says.Last year the Government established the NCSC to spearhead the country’s defences. In the three months after the centre was launched there were 188 “high-level” attacks as well as countless lower-level incidents.Chancellor Philip Hammond disclosed in February that the NCSC had blocked 34,550 potential attacks targeting UK Government departments and members of the public in six months.
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