MedStar Hospitals Recovering After Computer Hack

One of the biggest hospital systems in the D.C. area is recovering after hackers crippled its computer systems, hospital officials say.

MedStar Health Inc. has restored some of its computer systems after a computer virus paralyzed some operations starting Monday morning, leaving patients unable to book appointments and staff locked out of their email accounts. Doctors and nurses were forced to use paper to keep records.

A woman told News4 her husband's daily treatments for cancer were disrupted by the hack. His appointments Monday and Tuesday were canceled.

"He needs the treatment, as do many, many others," the cancer patient's wife said. "We're worried, but I have faith they'll have it fixed, I'm praying, by tomorrow."

The hack affected all 10 MedStar hospitals in D.C. and Maryland and its approximately 250 clinics.

A law enforcement official said the FBI was assessing whether the virus was so-called ransomware, in which hackers extort money in exchange for returning a victim's systems to normal. The FBI declined to confirm whether the virus was ransomware.

"If they do find that it is ransomware -- and I imagine they they do know that already -- they could pay the ransom and therefore get all their computers back immediately, or they could start the process of rebuilding their networks and their computers, which could take weeks, if not months," said Adam Vincent, CEO of the Virginia-based cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect.

Dr. Richard Alcorta, medical director for Maryland's emergency medical services network, said he suspects it was a ransomware attack, based on multiple ransomware attempts on individual hospitals in the state

Just last month, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California paid hackers $17,000 in untraceable bitcoin to restore normal operations after its computers were frozen.

Vincent, the cybersecurity expert, recommended against paying ransom to hackers.

"The only message we send by paying them is that other organizations will pay them as well," he said.

Vincent said businesses and individuals can protect their own computers from virus attacks.

To protect against malware, he recommends updating antivirus software, enabling pop-up blockers and backing up computers on an external drive.

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