US Health System Redirects Ambulances and Shuts Down Records Following Cyberattack

The Ascension health system, operating in 19 states across the U.S., recently fell victim to a cyberattack that resulted in significant disruptions to its operations. Some of the 140 hospitals within the system had to divert ambulances, postpone medical tests, and block online access to patient records. The attack, detected on Wednesday, prompted Ascension to call in Mandiant, a leading cybersecurity unit, to investigate the incident.

While Ascension did not confirm whether the attack was ransomware-related or if a ransom was paid, the situation bore the hallmarks of a ransomware attack. As a precautionary measure, the electronic records system and the MyChart system, which allows patients to access their records and communicate with doctors, were taken offline. Unfortunately, the restoration process is expected to take some time, with no definitive timeline provided.

Ransomware attacks have been on the rise in recent years, particularly in the healthcare sector, where data theft and encryption of networks are common tactics employed by cybercriminals. Ascension’s latest statement emphasized the use of “downtime” procedures and advised patients to come prepared with essential information for their appointments.

In a similar incident earlier this year, Change Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group Inc., faced a cyberattack that disrupted care systems nationwide. The company ended up paying a ransom of $22 million in bitcoin to resolve the issue. The attack on Change Healthcare highlighted the vulnerabilities in healthcare IT infrastructure, underscoring the need for enhanced cybersecurity measures.

As healthcare organizations grapple with the escalating threat of cyberattacks, the importance of robust security protocols and swift response mechanisms cannot be overstated. Ascension’s experience serves as a stark reminder of the critical need to safeguard patient data and maintain the integrity of healthcare operations in the face of evolving cybersecurity threats.

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