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Ransomware Attack Causes Alabama Hospital System to Turn Patients Away

In the latest ransomware attack scourge, three hospitals in Alabama were able to continue serving existing patients but said they could not take new cases.

Following a ransomware attack on the DCH Health System, three hospitals in Alabama were forced to turn away “all but the most critical new patients” on Oct. 1. 


The system attack affected all three locations in Tuscaloosa, Fayette and Northport. The hospital system released a statement acknowledging that the hackers have limited their ability to use computer systems unless they pay an “as-yet unknown” ransom. 


“Our staff is caring for the patients who are currently in the hospital, and we have no plans to transfer current patients,” DCH said in a statement on Tuesday. “Local ambulances have been instructed to take patients to other hospitals if at all possible. Patients who come to our emergency departments may be transferred to another hospital when they are stabilized.”


Following the discovery of the attack on Tuesday, DCH immediately implemented emergency procedures to continue to provide “critical medical services” to its patients, according to a DCH update on Wednesday. The hospitals encouraging people with non-emergency needs to go to other providers, though some outpatient procedures are still being conducted at the hospitals depending on the appointment. 


“We appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience as we work through our emergency procedures to resume normal operations,” DCH said in the statement. 


Security experts weighed in on the attack as cities, hospitals and schools across the country grapple with a rise in ransomware attacks. A new study by cybersecurity firm Emsisoft found that there have been at least 621 such attacks this year alone that could have cost upward of $186 million in damages. 


Dan Tuchler, the CMO at SecurityFirst, said that medical facilities have accelerated their transition to electronic health record systems in recent years to become more efficient and accessible.


“But this leaves them more exposed to hackers, including ransomware, and extending to their financial IT systems as well,” Tuchler said. “This is unacceptable. There are well-established best practices for protecting data on servers, and we should never have to read about a hospital turning away patients due to ransomware, as happened in this case.”


Tim Erlin, the vice president of product management and strategy at Tripwire, said the ransomware attack points to existing cybersecurity flaws within the system. 


“The reality is that ransomware doesn’t just appear on a system,” Erlin said. “It has to get there through some other means, whether that’s phishing, a vulnerable system or a combination of those, the key to preventing ransomware infections is to close of the avenues for infection.” 

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