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Hospitals warned of ransomware threat



AUGUSTA, Ga. — Hospitals throughout the U.S., including in the Augusta area, are on high alert after the the FBI warned of potential ransomware attacks that target medical centers’ computer systems. Hospitals in New York and Oregon have been impacted by ransomware this week.

Heather Rozskowski, the chief information security officer at Augusta University, says she hasn’t seen anything like this in her 20 years of IT experience.

“This is a one of a kind threat,” Rozskowski explains “This is definitely something people need to take heed of and take action.”

Ransomware attacks happen when a hacker sends a phishing email to their target.

“It is the ability for an adversary to send an email with either malicious content or a link to a malicious website, and convince the user to click that and install the malware on their machines,” Mathew Newfield, the chief information security officer of Unisys, explains.

The hacker then gets hold of a hospital’s secure system and locks it so they can’t access it. Hackers then demand ransom to unlock it.

“Part of healthcare is the availability of data,” Roszkowski explains. “We want to make sure we’re securing that data so it’s available when the provider needs it when a patient comes in.”

The CSRA is no stranger to cyber attacks. Aiken Regional Medical Center was one of 400 hospitals hit in September, forcing its systems to temporarily go offline.

“With hospitals, you have patients’ lives in the mix,” Roszkowski says. “You’re running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That makes hospitals a good target because they [hackers] know they may be a little more desperate to pay that ransom.”

Hospitals are more vulnerable than ever, with their focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients,” Newfield explains. “They’re really focused on that side of the house, and taking their eye, potentially, off of the things they need to do to protect that.”

As hospitals brace for flu season and a potential second wave of COVID-19, exerts say ransomware attacks can’t necessarily be prevented.

“It’s like a chess match,” Roszkowski says. “Wherever you are trying to put a protection in place, they’re trying to get around it.”

Augusta University and University Hospital tell NewsChannel 6 they’re following guidelines to protect themselves and be prepared in case of an attack.