How cyberattacks against hospitals could disrupt COVID-19 response

Cyberattacks are hitting U.S. hospitals as COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S.

In some cases, the attacks could hinder a hospital's ability to respond to the pandemic. Hospitals typically take their IT systems offline to prevent further malware infection after identifying a breach. The process to restore those systems is slow and often requires more antivirus software installation before systems are returned fully online. It may take weeks, and in some cases months, for hospitals to resume normal operations. During the downtime, hospital staff revert to paper records and nondigital communication which affects patient hand-offs and prescriptions.

Hospitals sometimes postpone nonurgent services during the downtime. The disruption to clinical care is particularly challenging for hospitals that need all their resources to care for patients with COVID-19. UVM Health Network was one of the hospitals disrupted by a cyberattack and as UVM Medical Center President and COO Stephen Leffler, MD, told VT Digger, "[COVID] won't wait for us to manage our IT systems."

Despite the IT disruption, the hospital's leadership told a local NBC affiliate that it is ready for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients.

On the other hand, St. Lawrence Health System in Upstate New York was hit by ransomware on Oct. 27 as St. Lawrence County COVID-19 cases were on the rise. The attack disrupted the three-hospital health system's test results and contact-tracing processes, according to a News 7 report.

"The malware that infected St. Lawrence Health System really added a kind of chaos that was not expected," Andrew Williams, St. Lawrence County Health Board president, told 7 News.


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