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A US hospital is the latest high-profile victim of cyber criminals using malware known as ransomware to encrypt vital data and demand payment to unlock the data.
Since then, ransomware has become increasingly popular with cyber criminals, with its use increasing by 58% in the second quarter of 2015, according to a threat report by Intel Security.
Some reports said the victim of the latest attack, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, has been forced to transfer some patients to other hospitals after ransomware downed its computer systems by encrypting critical data a week ago. But according to the BBC, day-to-day operations have not been affected, although many tasks normally carried out on computer are now being done on paper.
Patients are also being asked to collect their medical test results in person because the hospital is currently unable to send them electronically.
Doctors reportedly do not have access to patient information, including past medical records, records for newly admitted patients, and medical test results such as CT scans and X-rays.
The cyber criminals behind the ransomware attack have reportedly demanded payment of 9,000 bitcoins, worth about $3.6m, but the hospital has confirmed only that the attack took place and that all medical records are safe.
Read more about ransomware
- How to avoid being caught out by ransomware.
- Criminals use devices compromised for click fraud as the initial step in a chain of infections leading to ransomware attacks, warns security firm Damballa.
- The first half of 2014 saw an increase in online attacks that lock up user data and hold it to ransom.
- The Cryptolocker ransomware caught many enterprises off guard.
The hospital has not revealed how the ransomware infected its network or what kind of ransomware was used.
News of the US hospital attack comes just two weeks after Lincolnshire County Council in the UK was hit by a similar attack.
Initial reports said the attackers had demanded a £1m ransom, but the council later confirmed a ransom of only about £345, but said that at no point had it considered paying.
Cyber extortion is a growing threat to companies around the world, but the extent of the practice is largely hidden because many firms just pay up and keep quiet, say security experts.
As with Linconshire Council, hospital officials in the US said the attack appeared to be random rather than specifically targeted at the hospital.
The US attack is still under investigation by the FBI, Los Angeles Police and private computer forensics experts. ...................................................