German police have now begun an investigation after hackers took-down the computer systems at Düsseldorf University Hospital and a woman patient died while doctors attempted to transfer her to another hospital. The female patient was suffering from a life-threatening illness and was due to have life-saving treatment, but had to be turned away on the night of 11 September by the city’s university hospital and she died after the ambulance carrying her was diverted to another hospital (20 miles) away.
Medical staff believe the woman died from the delay in treatment after hackers attacked a hospital’s computer system.
Cologne prosecutors have now officially launched a negligent homicide case saying that the hackers could be blamed for the death. One expert said, if confirmed, it would be the first known case of a life being lost as a result of a hack.
The ransomware attack hit the hospital on the night of 9 September, scrambling data and making computer systems inoperable. Such attacks are one of the most serious threats in cybersecurity with dozens of high profile attacks so far this year. The attackers can demand large payments in crypto-currency Bitcoin in exchange for a software key that unlocks IT systems.
Some local reports suggest the hackers did not intend to attack the hospital and in fact were trying to target a different university. Once the hackers had realised their mistake it is reported they gave the hospital the decryption key without demanding payment before disappearing.
Germany’s cyber security agency, the Federal Office for Information Security, was called in to shore up the hospital’s systems. Its chief, Arne Schönbohm, said the Citrix flaw had been known about since December 2019 and called on healthcare facilities not to delay IT security upgrades.
Ciaran Martin who stepped down as the head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre recently said, “If confirmed, this tragedy would be the first case I know of, anywhere in the world, where the death of a human life can be linked in any way to a cyber-attack,” he told a Royal United Services Institute event in London.
“The bad news is that causing disruption, pain and economic harm through cyber-attack and even putting small numbers of people indirectly at risk as we’ve seen with ransomware remains too easy for my liking … The better news is that killing large numbers of people by cyber-attack deliberately remains thankfully quite hard…. The capabilities to do it are in the hands of only a very small number of nation-states and it is currently not in the interest of any of them any more than it is to fire live rounds at their adversaries.”
Martin also said that although in his time as NCSC chief executive he never had to declare a “category one” cyber-attack, the most severe type of national incident, it did not mean they may not in the future.
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