By Eric Byrnes, CNN • Updated 11th March 2021
A series of alerts to hospitals across the United States over the weekend warn them that hackers are threatening to make it impossible for them to access patient information as part of a “truly co-ordinated and simultaneous” ransomware attack, according to a number of memos obtained by CNN.
Following the attack, several organizations took to Twitter to warn their followers to not download the malware.
Many hospital systems were still grappling with the impact of the attack Saturday. They include University Health System in Iowa, Peabody Health System in Massachusetts, Visiting Angels in Missouri, Visiting Nurse Service of New York, and Broward Health in Florida.
Nina Vaca, executive director of Health IT NOW, a digital healthcare information technology professional organization, told CNN that her organization initially thought the warnings from the three top hospital groups were isolated to specific hospitals.
“We’re seeing more hospitals receiving these warnings in the last couple of days, and we’ve heard that those same warnings were being sent to academic medical centers and major teaching hospitals across the country,” Vaca said.
“This attack impacted a number of hospitals nationwide, but the focus appears to be on tertiary care facilities, as opposed to teaching hospitals,” she said.
The FBI, which has been monitoring the recent attack, is not investigating the breach and could not confirm if the ransomware attack is linked to the WannaCry ransomware that hit organizations across Europe, Asia and the United States last month.
“We are not investigating the connection between the recent cyberattack in the United Kingdom and the recent cyberattack in the United States,” Andrew Fields, a spokesman for the FBI’s Washington field office, told CNN.
In the United Kingdom, at least 17 hospitals and dozens of ambulances were affected. The viruses forced hospitals to turn away patients, block access to their computers and turn away staff, while forcing doctors to practice triage.
Researchers have determined that the hacking group behind WannaCry is the same group responsible for a ransomware attack that targeted Iranian oil industry infrastructure last month. CNN has been unable to identify the perpetrators of the attacks.
“The hackers — or groups of hackers — are to be blamed for a malicious, coordinated attack in the United States last weekend that used ransomware and disrupted hospital systems nationwide,” Vaca said.
“The attack was pre-meditated and not done out of a need to make money, at least at the clinical end, where doctors and hospitals are the ones who are paying the ransom,” she said.
“It was done for shock value.”
“Hackers don’t send ransomware simply to get money, they often try to capitalize on the sensitive and private information of patients,” she said.
The ransomware attacks Friday targeted health organizations in Idaho, Oregon, Minnesota, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Florida, Indiana, Virginia, Iowa, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, New York, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, Massachusetts, California, Kansas, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, California, Delaware, Montana, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, South Dakota, South Dakota, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.