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Hospitals warned of life-threatening ransomware risk

Cyber security experts have issued Australian hospitals a warning, stating that they may have no choice but to pay a ransom when targeted in ransomware attacks to keep their patients safe.

user icon Daniel Croft
Mon, 05 Dec 2022
Hospitals warned of life-threatening ransomware risk
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Cyber security company Palo Alto Networks has told hospitals to consider whether they would be willing to pay a ransom when targeted by bad actors.

“What are your crown jewels and if someone wants to get access to that, how much is it worth to you?” asked Palo Alto CSO Sean Duca.

While industry professionals have previously advised businesses not to pay a ransom, as there is no guarantee that hackers would delete stolen data, in the case of a hospital, it could be a situation of life and death.


“You’ve got people sitting mid-operation on an operating table and the systems around them cant actually work, do we just let the individual die because we dont want to pay the ransom?"

As an increasing number of cyber criminals targeting organisations have their ransom requests denied, in a cyber climate where attacks are on the rise, experts have expressed that bad actors will take advantage of the potentially fatal consequences of refusing a ransom.

“As these caregiving institutions quite literally have patients’ lives in their hands, it is often hard to refuse payment,” said cyber security company Senetas.

The hospitals and the health sector have already become key ransomware targets for cyber criminals. Only last week, hackers attempted to breach the IT systems of Mater Health, the company in charge of a network of private hospitals across Queensland.

While the attack was stopped, Edith Cowan University’s senior computing and security lecturer Mohiuddin Ahmed predicts that attacks on hospitals are set to rise, particularly those with “highly digitised” hospital systems.

We use lots of internet-connected healthcare devices and if those devices are hacked and remotely compromised by these cyber criminals, we’ll be left in a situation where we have to pay ransom, otherwise peoples lives will be at stake.

Imagine that for senior citizens using pacemakers or any other embedded or implanted devices.

Who knows, if we do not pay attention, if we do not follow cyber hygiene, things [may] go catastrophic.”

The recent attack on Medicare has served as a wake-up call for not only the health sector but the Australian cyber security as a whole.

Hackers demanded $15.6 million in ransom, but the health insurer refused, with the support of the government.

Australia is being targeted for its wealth, which has sparked a rush to secure the nation’s cyber security practices, with an increase in fines for data breaches, and the establishment of a 100-man cyber security fighting squad.

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Born in the heart of Western Sydney, Daniel Croft is a passionate journalist with an understanding for and experience writing in the technology space. Having studied at Macquarie University, he joined Momentum Media in 2022, writing across a number of publications including Australian Aviation, Cyber Security Connect and Defence Connect. Outside of writing, Daniel has a keen interest in music, and spends his time playing in bands around Sydney.

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