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Hospitals brace for cyberattacks amid pandemic and record COVID hospitalizations

Hospitals brace for cyberattacks amid pandemic and record COVID hospitalizations, Oct. 29, 2020.{ }
Hospitals brace for cyberattacks amid pandemic and record COVID hospitalizations, Oct. 29, 2020.
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(WLUK) -- Healthcare systems across the country, struggling in the fight against COVID-19. Now, the FBI says hundreds of hospitals face "credible and imminent" ransomware cyberattacks.

“We’re always on the alert for those things, but there’s definitely a heightened sense of awareness, as we know several organizations have been hacked,” said Jim Dietsche, executive vice president and CFO for Bellin Health.

The FBI didn’t name the impacted hospitals, but the Dickinson County Healthcare System says it was attacked on Oct. 17.

Dietsche says Bellin Health has a relationship with DCHS, which serves Dickinson and surrounding counties in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.

“We’ve been trying to work closely with them to understand more about that challenge, so we’ve been alerted to this probably a few weeks in advance, before this became public,” he said.

The FBI says malware targeting hospitals could lead to ransomware attacks, data theft and healthcare service disruption.

In the case of Dickinson County, officials say patient care was slightly impacted but, with hospitals now at or near capacity, Bellin says it would be detrimental to patient care.

“It has a significant impact, because then you’re going to be doing everything with pen and paper,” Dietsche said. “You cannot see the medical record, so if there’s allergies or contrary indication of things, it could have a very significant impact on the continuity of care.”

Ransomware attacks are designed to hold computer systems and data hostage, locking the owners out until they pay up.

“We obviously are very concerned about any of these types of issues for our system,” said Dietsche. “It really is a critical component to care delivery now, because so much of the medical information is on an electronic system.”

Bellin says it appears the attack sprang from a phishing scheme. The door could've been opened, as easily as one simple click on an email link.

“One of the simplest things is just to let all the staff and employees know that there’s a heightened sense of awareness right now,” Dietsche said. “We have processes in place to test employee awareness."

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Bellin says the FBI has been working with them to help them avoid becoming prey to these cyber predators.

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