Hospital pays $17,000 ransom to get access back to its encrypted files

The payment will likely prompt debate over how to deal with a pervasive type of cybercrime

A Los Angeles hospital has paid US$17,000 to cyberattackers who crippled its network by encrypting its files, a payment that will likely rekindle a fierce debate over how to deal with a problem known as ransomware.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center issued a statement saying that its systems were restored on Monday, 10 days after malware locked access to its systems.

The hospital contacted law enforcement as well as computer experts, wrote Allen Stefanek, president and CEO of Hollywood Presbyterian, in a statement on Wednesday. But it is apparent those efforts did not help in recovering files.

"The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key," Stefanek wrote. "In the best interest of restoring normal operations, we did this."

The cyberattackers requested 40 bitcoins, or about $17,000, not 9,000 bitcoins, worth about $3.4 million, as reported in the media, Stefanek wrote.

The style of attack, known as ransomware, has become increasingly common, affecting companies, organizations and individuals.

Ransomware attacks have been occurring for more than a decade, but only in the last couple of years have the attacks become large scale. Computer security experts have theorized that this type of attack has a higher rate of success versus other cybercrime activity that has become more difficult.

Ransomware victims just have two choices: either pay the ransom or permanently lose access to their files. The malware used to encrypt files can be difficult to defend against, and the encryption in most cases can't be broken.The best insurance is to have offline or segregated backups of data.

Paying the attackers likely encourages the schemes. Hollywood Presbyterian may face criticism for paying, but it appears the hospital had little choice.

The ransomware affected its electronic medical record system, and hospital employees couldn't communicate electronically, Stefanek wrote.

Companies have paid ransoms to cyberattackers before and come under fire. Last November, ProtonMail, a Switzerland-based encrypted email service, paid a ransom to a group that was crippling its network with distributed denial-of-service attacks.

ProtonMail wrote a blog post saying it paid a ransom in bitcoins, but the DDoS attack didn't stop. A second group began attacking the company.

Later, ProtonMail said it regretted paying and that it "was clearly a wrong decision so let us be clear to all future attackers – ProtonMail will never pay another ransom."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?