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Hackers force MedStar Health system's computers to go offline... viruses can now crater advanced medical facilities in an instant

MedStar Health Inc.

(NaturalNews) The FBI is investigating a hacking incident that took place at a major hospital chain, MedStar Health Inc., on Monday, which caused record systems to go offline for thousands of doctors and patients. The government office is attempting to determine if the anonymous hackers are demanding a ransom to restore the systems.

The nonprofit is in charge of ten regional hospitals. They shut down all computer system interfaces to stop the computer virus from circulating. Since the hospital's record systems were forced offline, staff were unable to check email, and had to resort to paper medical records and transactions. Some employees have had their computers turned off since Monday.

MedStar says that all of their hospitals and clinical facilities are still open, even though nobody can log into the healthcare system's computer network. "MedStar's highest priorities are the safety of our patients and associates and confidentiality of information," the organization said in a press statement. "We are working with law enforcement, our IT and Cyber-security partners to fully assess and address the situation," they added.

Hospitals become a hot target for computer hackers

The ordeal follows in the wake of a similar incident that occurred at Inside Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital last month. Hackers used the encryption technology, ransomware, to cripple the hospital's computer systems. The medical center paid the hackers $17,000 in digital bitcoin currency, which is extremely difficult to trace.

MedStar spokeswoman Ann Nickels told sources she couldn't say if the recent hack was a product of ransomware. She added that patient care hadn't been compromised by the incident, and that the hospital had switched to a paper backup system.

Despite claims to the contrary, Ted Harrington, an executive partner with Independent Security Evaluators in Baltimore, Maryland, said he believes the attack will impact patient care. His company has reviewed hospital security and published their results in a report on the susceptibility of medical computer systems to cyber attacks.

"Without access to that patient data they can't administer care with the same level of effectiveness," he told The Baltimore Sun. "Lack of availability does have implications for patient health."

When questioned if the hackers were holding the hospital's computer system to ransom, Nickels responded, "I don't have an answer to that," and referred sources back to the company's original statement.

On the other hand, Dr. Richard Alcorta, the medical director for Maryland's emergency medical services network, said he thought ransomware was probably responsible for the attack, in light of various ransomware attempts on hospitals throughout the state.

"People view this, I think, as a form of terrorism and are attempting to extort money by attempting to infect them with this type of virus," he told the Associated Press.

Hospital's computer systems remain offline

Alcorta said his agency first caught wind of the cyber attack around 10:30 a.m., when the non-profit's Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore called to deflect emergency vehicles possibly heading towards the facility.

Other hospital staff claim they first learned of the attack early in the morning, and were ordered to turn off their computer systems until late morning. One Twitter user posted a picture on Monday of a shut down computer in the emergency room of Washington Hospital Center, a trauma center in Northwest Washington, according to the Associated Press.

Although hospitals are regarded as critical infrastructure, they are not required to succumb to the demands of hackers unless patient information is at risk.

At Good Samaritan Hospital in Northeast Baltimore, computers remain on lock down in the emergency department, at the desks of security guards, and in the triage waiting room. Nurses have been taking down insurance information with pen and paper. At the pharmacy, a sign hanging on the glass door reads, "Systems down. We will reopen Tuesday 3/29/16 @ 8 a.m. We apologize for the inconvenience."

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