Cyberattack: New version of decryption tool developed as ‘good progress made’ - Minister

Platform that delivers digital radiology is live again in Beaumont hospital

A new version of a decryption tool has been developed by the HSE and IT experts and is being deployed across the network, the Minister for Health said on Saturday.

He made his comment after a daily meeing of a Ministerial taskforce reviewing progress in response to last week’s cyberattack on the HSE.

“A structured and controlled deployment is now underway across the core network and devices across the system,” Stephen Donnelly tweeted.

The level of disruption to service seen so far is expected to continue into next week and it “will take time to restore systems”, he added.


Mr Donnelly has said “good progress” is being made, but it will take time to restore Health Service Executive (HSE) and hospital IT systems.

“We are making progress on restoring health systems which is important to our patients who need the services, and also to the staff across the service who are doing ferocious work after 14 months of intense work on Covid-19,” he wrote on Twitter.

A platform that delivers digital radiology is live once again in Beaumont hospital, with progress made in other hospitals, he said

Mr Donnelly gave “huge thanks to the tens of thousands of healthcare staff all over the country doing your best at this time- it is appreciated.””Everything that can be done is being done at this time,” he added.

Earlier, the Government said in a statement that “very steady progress” is being made in repairing and restoring the HSE’s IT systems in what is a “difficult and complex task”.

Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan, Mr Donnelly, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys and Minister of State for Communications Ossian Smyth met on Saturday.

The threat by hackers to publish stolen data on Monday is being taken seriously by the Government. “We are going to prepare in case it does happen, ” Mr Smyth told RTE news.

Gardaí are concerned a protracted wave of scam attacks could follow if data potentially relating to millions of people, which may have been stolen in an attack on the HSE, is published or sold on to other criminals.

Earlier on Saturday, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the process for unlocking network remains “fraught with risk” .

The fallout from the ransomware attack by an organised criminal gang will continue for some weeks to come, he warned. A decryption key given to Government by the group responsible for the attack is being tested this weekend.

Mr Reid welcomed the news, but said it would not by a silver bullet for the crisis facing the health service. On Saturday, he tweeted: “Access to the unlocking codes to our network is welcome. “But it isn’t a ‘switch back on’ process & still fraught with risk. We’ll continue to rebuild services & systems safely whilst evaluating the impact of these codes. The impact remains for the coming weeks for now.”

On Friday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the Government did not pay a ransom or use diplomatic channels to obtain the decryption key. The key was made available on Thursday evening almost a week after the IT system was attacked. It was given to the Government by the organised crime group behind the cyber attack, believed to be a gang calling itself Wizard Spider, but their reasons for doing so remain unclear. The cyberattack continues to impact health services. HSE warned the public on Saturday of significant delays at emergency departments over the weekend for those needing non-urgent care, as patients needing urgent care would be prioritised.

Dr Gabrielle Colleran, vice president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, said doctors are “absolutely exhausted” after a very difficult eight days in the health service.

Speaking on the RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon she said all computers and phones have been disconnected since last Friday and staff are operating under “extremely challenging”conditions.

She urged patients suffering symptoms of stroke or heart problems to continue to attend emergency departments, as hospitals are “doing everything they can to provide safe, high quality care”.

Her biggest worry going forward is the lack of access to a patient’s history.

“Instead of our normal safe quality checks that are embedded into the system we are having to put in temporary workarounds that aren’t as safe. There are always risks in healthcare, but there is much more risk in practicing like this.” For the longer term, she is concerned for people whose care is being delayed and who will as a result experience worse disease outcomes.

Minister of State Niall Collin told RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon radio programme that there is a concern for anyone whose personal data could be posted on the dark web or sold on to other criminal gangs.

He said “no effort is being spared” in trying to deal with the cyberattack that has shut down the HSE’s IT infrastructure. The Government has been proactive in obtaining an injunction to prevent stolen data being distributed online and there has been “good coordination” between the HSE and social media companies.

Asked about the potential for future legal actions, Mr Collins said it is a person’s legal entitlement in a democracy to take a case if they feel they have been wronged.

Meanwhile President Michael D Higgins has described the hack as “appalling”. “We were just getting back to the point where people were looking forward to the normal meeting of appointments and that they could structure it in a different way and then this appalling cyberatck happend which is one that falls on the most vuletnable and really dependnet people,” Mr Higgins told Brendan O’Connor on RTE radio on Saturday. . - Additional reporting PA

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter