Federal agencies released an advisory Wednesday, warning the health sector about a "credible" cyber crime threat to U.S. hospitals.
The joint warning was issued by the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. It urged hospitals and health-provides to increase security measures, as experts have received information about cyber criminals who were using Ryuk ransomware, which encrypts a victim's files and denies them access to their service or data until the ransom is paid. The attacks could also lead to data theft as well as the disruption of healthcare services, which is especially concerning as hospitals across the country deal with another surge in COVID-19 cases.
According to the Associated Press, Milwaukee-based cyber intelligence firm Hold Security has been monitoring the ransomware operation for more than a year. The firm's CEO/founder Alex Holden said the group of hackers claims to have ransomed more than 30 U.S. health facilities and plans to attack over 400 more.
The AP reports Holden had notified federal agents about recent infection attempts last Friday. Though it's unclear how many hospitals were targeted, Holden said some "may have beaten back infections." One of the affected facilities was Sky Lakes Medical Center in Oregon. The hospital released a Facebook statement on Tuesday confirming its computer system had been compromised.
"Earlier today, Sky Lakes Medical Center was the victim of a ransomware attack ... right now we have no evidence that patient information has been compromised," the post read. "However, communications with the medical center will be a little complicated until we can get our systems operating again. Our entire Sky Lakes team is working to counter this attack, and we will keep you updated on the ongoing details of our efforts to return business back to normal. Emergency and Urgent care remain available. Many scheduled procedures will go on as scheduled."
The advisory comes about a month after Universal Health Services announced a ransomware attack had affected 250 of its U.S. hospitals and clinics. Doctors and nurses at the facilities were reportedly forced to slow lab work and rely on manual record-keeping.
"We are most concerned with ransomware attacks which have the potential to disrupt patient care operations and risk patient safety," John Riggi, senior cybersecurity adviser to the American Hospital Association, said at the time. "We believe any cyberattack against any hospital or health system is a threat-to-life crime and should be responded to and pursued as such by the government."