Ransomware Disrupts NHS Scotland Appointments & GP Surgeries

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An as-yet undetected ransomware variant slipped through NHS Lanarkshire’s defences and encrypted files, following disruption caused by Wannacry

The NHS has confirmed ransomware was the cause of disruption to a Scottish health board on Friday that led to operations and doctors’ appointments being cancelled.

NHS Lanarkshire, which is Scotland’s third-largest health board and serves more than 650,000 people, said its network had been infected by a new variant of the Bitpaymer malware.

Appointments cancelled

The board said staff worked over the weekend to bring systems back online. The incident is being investigated.

Ransomware encrypts data on the systems of those attacked and demands a payment to unlock the files.

NHS NPfIT health medicine doctor
The attack began around 11 a.m. on Friday with operations cancelled and the work of GPs disrupted. But the board said operations had continued under contingency plans and emergency procedures weren’t affected.

“A small number of systems were affected with the majority restored over the weekend and the remainder on Monday,” said NHS Lanarkshire chief executive Calum Campbell in a statement. “Unfortunately a small number of procedures and appointments were cancelled as a result of the incident.”

The board added that its security softare was up-to-date and that the malware apparently slipped through because it hadn’t yet been identified by security firms.

New variant

“Following analysis of the malware our security providers issued an updated signature so that this variant can now be detected and blocked,” the board stated.

Petya ransomware
The Petya ransomware.

A patient who attended a GP appointment in Hamilton, south-east of Glasgow, told The Scotsman: “Receptionists were asking people to only stay and wait to see a doctor if it was an emergency. They were unable to access anyone’s notes or test results.”

NHS Lanarkshire was one of the Scotish authorities worst-hit in May’s Wannacry ransomware epidemic. Eleven of Scotland’s 14 territorial health boards were affected in that attack, but the NHS said last week’s infiltration wasn’t on the same scale.

Most ransomware spreads through malicious attachments that trick users into opening them. Wannacry was different, using an exploit thought to have been developed by the NSA, the US spy agency, which affects a vulnerable Windows component and doesn’t require any user action.

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