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HSE ransomware attack: What you need to know

Update 1 18:25 May 14th: The HSE has confirmed that a donation has been sought, but has confirmed that it will not be paying, in line with state policy. Services may not be restored by Monday. The original article is preserved below, with the necessary changes made and additional information regarding what services are available and what services are not will be added as more information is released.

Update 2 20:11 May 14th: The HSE has confirmed that COVID-19 test results and contact tracing services have been restored to normal.

The Irish Health Service Executive has been hit by a ransomware attack, described as “possibly the most significant cyber attack on the Irish State”. The attack took place during the night, with the HSE shutting down multiple systems as a preventative measure to ensure that they are also not infected. As a result, wider HSE operations have been impacted while the HSE investigates and attempts to recover data.

In a statement given to the Irish Independent, the HSE’s chief information advisor, Fran Thompson, said that the HSE does “have backups” of “all the big stuff, anyway”. Mr. Thompson also reiterated the government’s position that it will not pay any ransoms. Generally, the reasoning for not wanting to pay a ransom is that once a payment is made, nothing prevents the attacker from then asking for more. A ransomware attack usually encrypts important files or documents on a computer and charges the victim a fee to decrypt the files. It has been described as a “0-day” attack by the HSE’s COO, Dr. Anne O’Connor. 0-day attacks are attacks that make use of vulnerabilities not previously publicly known and often do not have a Common Vulnerability and Exposures number, or CVE.

It is understood that the attack makes use of the Conti “human-operated” ransomware. Conti’s news website has been used to post data from victims in the past, and due to the nature of its human operation, it’s possible that the attackers have had access to the HSE’s systems for a period of time. Not much is currently known yet about the circumstances surrounding the attack, though the HSE confirmed that a ransom has been sought. It will not be paid in line with state policy. People with a hospital, COVID-19 test, or COVID-19 vaccination appointment are being urged to attend as normal unless otherwise told not to.

Follow the HSELive Twitter account for more up to date information.

What’s working

  • Emergency departments are working, but there may be delays.
  • Ambulance services are operating as normal.
  • COVID-19 vaccinations are operating as normal.
  • COVID-19 testing is operating as normal if you already have an appointment.
  • Virtual hospital appointments are mostly going ahead, but some may be switched to phone calls.
  • In-person appointments are mostly going ahead, though there may be delays due to the use of manual processes.
  • Patients currently in hospital are safe and still being cared for.
  • Electronic prescriptions are not affected.
  • Contact tracing has been restored to normal.

What’s not working

  • GPs cannot refer you for a COVID-19 test, however, may suggest you attend a COVID-19 walk-in center which will be operating as normal. Symptomatic cases and close contacts will be prioritised at these centers.
  • Medical and nursing staff do not have access to new test results for people with serious illnesses, including cancer. Doctors are requesting paper copies from labs.
  • The GeoHive COVID-19 information hub will not be updated until further notice.

Individual Hospitals affected

Rotunda Hospital

All appointments at Rotunda Hospital have been cancelled, aside from appointments for those who are 36-weeks pregnant and later. This hospital is still also open for emergencies.

Cork University Hospital

  • Radiotherapy appointments have been cancelled.
  • Most x-ray appointments are cancelled.
  • Only emergency blood samples are being sent to the lab.
  • If you are not told your appointment is cancelled, then attend as normal.

University Hospital Limerick Group

Long delays, but emergency services are continuing. If you have an appointment, you should still attend.

Wexford General Hospital

All x-ray appointments have been cancelled, and you can contact the hospital to reschedule. Maternity services continue as normal.

The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street

The hospital has said there will be “significant disruption” to its services but has urged those with appointments to attend.

St Columcille’s Loughlinstown

The hospital cancelled radiology appointments, and all those affected have been contacted.

St. Luke’s General Hospital Carlow-Killkenny

The hospital cancelled radiology appointments, and all those affected have been contacted.

Tipperary University Hospital

The hospital has cancelled some appointments, and those affected have been contacted.

Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital

  • Emergency appointments are still open.
  • Ophthalmology outpatient services have been cancelled until further notice.
  • Patients will be contacted directly if appointments are cancelled, and any cancelled appointments will be rescheduled as soon as possible.
An Irish technology fanatic with a BSc in Computer Science. Lover of smartphones, cybersecurity, and Counter-Strike. You can contact me at adam.conway@irishtech.ie.
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