US Hospital Goes Offline After Cyber Attack

A Chicago children’s hospital was forced to take its networks offline following an unspecified cyberattack. Lurie Children’s Hospital initially said it had suffered a network outage, causing it to limit access to its hospital records and communications, but days later, officials released a statement saying it took its networks down in response to a “cybersecurity matter.”

The shutdown affected phones, emails, and medical equipment linked to computer networks. The hospital remained operational, but a spokesperson said appointments, prescription history, and medical records were affected, causing difficulty for employees.

Pediatrician Dr. Andy Bernstein said staff had devised methods of “back-channeling” to improve communication, but a hospital statement emphasized the severity of the incident. “We are taking this very seriously, are investigating with the support of leading experts, and are working in collaboration with law enforcement agencies,” the statement read. The hospital established a call center for patients and their families who could not reach staff through the usual means.

A similar incident happened in Illinois over the summer when a cyberattack caused the St. Margaret’s Health facility to close its doors. It took months for the hospital, based in Spring Valley, Illinois, to get back on track after the incident, and vice president Linda Burt said this exacerbated problems already caused by the coronavirus pandemic and staffing costs.

The Illinois incident was described as a ransomware attack, when hackers lock down computer systems and demand payment to restore them. Software is available to warn of impending attacks, but this is expensive, and most hospitals do not have it installed. Linda Burt said small and rural hospitals are particularly vulnerable and are “fighting for survival” amid rising costs and “tight business margins.”

Hackers targeted a small 88-bed hospital in Idaho a month before the attack on St. Margaret’s. Doctors at Idaho Falls Community Hospital were forced to re-route ambulances to other facilities, and spokesperson Brian Ziel said staff were “working round the clock” to restore regular services and get computer networks back online.