Irish hospital fended off 5,000 cyber-attacks, says HSE

Only only healthcare organisation impacted by WannaCry in Ireland

A major Irish hospital was subjected to over 5,000 cyber-attacks during the recent global scare that caused major problems to Britain’s National Health Service.

The computer systems in the hospital, which the Health Service Executive did not identify, were not penetrated. Only one health organisation, one not connected to the HSE network, was compromised during the cyber attack.

In a statement on Wednesday, the HSE said that all external access to its IT system was cut last Friday as a precaution when the threat from the WannaCry ransomware attack became known.

The would-be hackers, who froze files on penetrated systems and sought to blackmail money from people effected by demanding payment to unfreeze access, gained access to systems in the UK, Russia, France, several other European countries and parts of north America.


Key sites

The HSE said that while disruption in Ireland, caused by shutting down access rather than by hacker penetration, created some disruption, it was kept to a minimum. A review on the effectiveness of the HSE response was taking place.

“So far this review has revealed that the threat posed through the number of ‘attack attempts’ was significant. Initial results indicate that one major hospital had over 5,000 cyber-attack attempts between Friday and Saturday,” said the statement.

“Over the weekend the HSE discovered a number of key sites that had the ‘WannaCry’ toolkit on machines. However, the work done by the team prevented this toolkit converting into the ransom ware and causing the designed level of disruption.”

Reconnection to external systems was due to be completed by mid-afternoon on Wednesday but all queued traffic into the system would continue to be scanned for any infected emails, the organisation said.

The HSE said that since Friday, only one health organisation, a voluntary Section 39 operation not connected to the HSE Network, was impacted by the attack.

During the same period of time over 200 countries were impacted. Throughout the world, health systems, car manufacturers, mobile communications vendors, train operators and large parcel delivery functions were all impacted by the virus attack.

The HSE's chief information officer, Richard Corbridge noted: "The heightened vigilance and ramped up security measures implemented by the HSE's Office of the CIO over last weekend prevented the " WannaCry" virus from having the same kind of effect seen throughout the world over the last few days.

“While the threat has abated for now, the team remains on a high state of alert for additional ‘attack attempts’ on the HSE network.”

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times