Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Heads Up

The hackers holding hospitals to ransom

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 10 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2214
  1. Krishna Chinthapalli, neurology registrar
  1. National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London
  1. vkcpersonal{at}

Hospitals need to be prepared to avoid shutdowns

In February 2016 staff at a Los Angeles hospital noticed that their computers weren’t working.1 Secretaries couldn’t access emails and had to communicate by fax or phone. Doctors couldn’t access electronic records. At least one patient had to go to another hospital. Others reported long delays. Computed tomography scans could not be done. The chief executive declared an emergency, and ambulances were diverted to other hospitals. Rumours surfaced, including that the hospital was being held to ransom for $3.4m (£2.6m; €3.1m), though the hospital denied this.23

Few people know what exactly occurred at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. It is likely to have been a “phishing” expedition in which the bait was a fake email message and the prey was a healthcare employee. The virus—or “ransomware”—then infected and locked hospital computers. IT …

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