A hard lesson for computer users

Published 7:37 pm Monday, May 29, 2017

Among the most alarming aspects of the WannaCry ransomware attack that swept the globe earlier this month was the indiscriminate way in which it victimized unsuspecting companies and nations.

Among the victims were parts of Britain’s National Health Service, Spain’s Telefonica, FedEx and the German train system, along with colleges and universities in Greece, Canada, Indonesia and Italy and even police departments in India and China, government ministries in Russia and state and local governments in India and Sweden.

But the most disturbing victims were the hospitals. In addition the Britain’s National Health Service, the Scottish NHS was hit, along with hospitals in Indonesia, Slovakia and Columbia. There were widespread reports of patients having to be sent home, because their patient records were unavailable after the attack.

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Ransomware victimizes unsuspecting computer users, who click a link, often in an email, which then runs a background program that quickly locks their files and gives them a message notifying them they must make a Bitcoin payment to an anonymous account in order to receive the code that will unlock those files.

Locked patient files, as the affected hospitals learned, make it impossible to provide safe and effective care, to proceed with scheduled surgeries, to safely prescribe medications or to do much at all in the way of providing services to patients.

Fortunately, hospital and health care providers in America seem to have seen limited effects from the malicious program. That’s great news, and we hope it reflects a devotion by the IT departments of this nation’s health care providers to take the safety of their patient records as carefully as the doctors and nurses protect the safety of their charges.

A task force established by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association is working to make sure cyber-attacks do not imperil patients, and a set of guidelines released by the group earlier this year may well have helped the commonwealth’s hospitals avoid disaster.

“We continue to focus on ensuring that all security patches are up to date, and we continue to ensure that our staff remains diligent in keeping our internal systems safe,” Bon Secours spokeswoman Lynne Zultanky stated in an email last week.

That’s good advice for anyone with a computer.