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The Irish Health Service is affected by a “very complex” ransomware attack

The national flag of Ireland flies over the President’s residence, before the arrival of Pope Francis, in Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS / Dylan Martinez – RC12C3B40540

The Irish healthcare operator shut down all its IT systems on Friday to protect it from a “significant” ransomware attack, crippling diagnostic services and forcing hospitals to cancel many appointments.

The country’s COVID-19 vaccination program has not been disrupted, but the attack affects IT systems serving all other local and national health services, the head of the health service (HSE) said.

The HSE shut down IT systems as a precaution to protect as much information as possible and assess how the attack would affect other services, said CEO Paul Reed.

Reed said the cyberattack, discovered in the early hours of Friday morning, was “a man-made attack that seeks access to data and seeks ransom for it”.

The HSE did not receive a ransom request “at this stage” and was at a very early stage in understanding the threat, he added.

“This is a very complex attack, not just a standard attack. It affects all our national and local systems that would be involved in all our basic services,” Reed told national television RTE.

“Fortunately, the vaccination program continues, it’s a separate system.”

Reed said the attack largely affected information stored on central servers, not hospital equipment.

Dublin National Maternity Hospital said there would be significant disruptions to all services on Friday. Another Sofia hospital has canceled all outpatient appointments for the day, other than those for women 36 weeks pregnant or in need of emergency care.

At Cork University Hospital, medical oncologist Seamus O’Reilly arrived at the city’s largest hospital to paralyze his IT systems with all computers turned off.

“Our main concern is patient safety and the results, which can be exceptional, are laboratory data that must be available to manage patient care today. This is very painful for patients,” he told RTE.

Ransomware attacks typically involve infecting computers with malware, often downloaded by clicking on seemingly harmless links in emails or other pop-ups on websites. Users remain locked by their systems, demanding a ransom to restore computer functions.

They are different from data breaches or other types of hacking, which can steal large batches of customer data or other information from companies or individuals.

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