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UVM Health Network a victim of cyberattack

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 3:02 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2020 at 8:34 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The University of Vermont Health Network Thursday confirmed that it was the victim of a nationwide cyberattack Wednesday that targeted patient records at UVM Health Network hospitals across the region. Officials said it did not affect patient care but some procedures were canceled.

The University of Vermont Health Network, FBI, and Vermont Department of Public Safety are investigating the now-confirmed cyberattack that hit the network’s six hospitals differently. Federal agencies reported cybercriminals had unleashed a major ransomware assault against the U.S. health care system. Independent security experts said it had already hobbled at least five U.S. hospitals earlier this week and could impact hundreds more.

UVM Medical Center officials say their IT team has been working since the attack to identify what happened to which UVM Health Network Systems, trace those problems, and find solutions, but that they expect it will take a number of days to restore the system. The staff are following downtime procedures they’ve drilled for in preparation for network outages, like shifting to a paper system, but they’ve never experienced a shutdown as significant as this. They stress while the electronic systems help the network communicate, they don’t prevent clinicians from providing proper health care. UVM Medical Center officials say no patient information was lost and that they have a hard-copy backup for every patient file, but it’s still not clear how much private patient information may have been compromised.

“Every hospital leader in the state of Vermont is doing their absolute best to try to protect the data that they have on you as a patient and certainly want to protect the integrity of their systems,” said Kevin Mullin, chair of the Green Mountain Care Board. He says if the network doesn’t return to normal operations quickly, it will lose significant revenue from canceled procedures.

UVM Medical Center is still treating patients in-person as normal but there may be delays. In the meantime, the hospitals are contacting patients whose appointments have been rescheduled or canceled. If you haven’t gotten a call, expect no changes to your appointment.

Porter Medical Center, UVM Health Network Home Health and Hospice, and Central Vermont Medical Center are all maintaining patient care services but CVMC patients may experience delays.

Alice Hyde Medical Center, Elizabethtown Community Hospital, and Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh are maintaining all patient care services, but physician practice patients at CVPH may experience slight delays.

Officials say COVID testing at all UVM Health Network sites is still open. The Health Department is coordinating with the State Emergency Operations Center to fill gaps in operations, like testing and reporting of laboratory results. Officials say the results of those tests may take longer to process.

The Rutland Regional Medical Center says their network system was not affected. But out of an abundance of caution, they say they reviewed all emergency procedures and protocols related to IT and concluded that their network was not targeted.

CYBERSECURITY EXPERTS WEIGH IN ON RANSOMWARE ATTACK

Cybersecurity experts say attacks like Wednesday’s are happening more frequently and target companies with deep pockets. They say it’s something that is often not easy to prepare for.

“Cybercriminals are looking for a quick easy payout,” said George Silowash, the chief information security officer for Norwich University

The UVM Health Network attack opens the door for a lot of questions, including how could something like this happen?

Reporter Dom Amato: Are there many organizations or establishments prepared for an attack like this?

George Silowash: I would say based on what I’ve been seeing lately, I would say no. Many organizations were probably struggling with this.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything this large in Vermont in terms of an IT disruption,” said Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling. He says the state is assisting federal partners like the FBI and Homeland Security to identify and mitigate the impact of the attack. He says it’s a reminder for people and companies to ensure they are protected the best they can. “Just in keeping your systems up to date, make sure the OS are patched so you don’t inadvertently have a failure that costs you data or an ability to function on any given day.”

Silowash says backups of vital information are key, and to test those back-ups. He says it’s also important to train employees on phishing scams -- usually e-mails -- that look real but can harm systems and infect networks. “A lot of times these attacks occur through a phishing attack. They start with a phishing attack and they pivot quickly,” he said.

The New York Times has reported that the cyberattacks on hospitals across the country were by Russian hackers and that they’re holding data hostage in exchange for multi-million dollar payments.

UVM officials say they can’t confirm if this was a targetted ransomware attack. Leaders haven’t received any requests for money.

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FBI warns ransomware assault threatens US health care system

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