(Source: www.straitstimes.com)

LONDON (REUTERS) – A number of hospitals in Britain and firms in Spain have been hit by separate large-scale cyber attacks.

Guardian newspaper said NHS England has confirmed that hospitals across Britain appear to have been simultaneously hit by a bug in their IT systems, leading to many diverting emergency patients.

NHS England said it was aware of the problem and would release more details soon.

Hospitals were being forced to divert emergency cases due to the cyber attack. Among them was the Barts Health group which manages major central London hospitals including The Royal London and St Bartholomew’s.

“We are experiencing a major IT disruption and there are delays at all of our hospitals,” it said. “We have activated our major incident plan to make sure we can maintain the safety and welfare of patients. Ambulances are being diverted to neighbouring hospitals.”

Patients requiring emergency treatment across Britain were diverted away from the hospitals affected and the public was advised to only seek medical care for acute medical conditions.

In a message to a Guardian reporter, one NHS IT worker said: “At approximately 12.30pm we experienced a problem with our email servers crashing. Following this a lot of our clinical systems and patient systems were reported to have gone down.

“A bitcoin virus pop-up message had been introduced on to the network asking users to pay $300 to be able to access their PCs. You cannot get past this screen. This followed with an internal major incident being declared and advised all trust staff to shut down all PCs in the trust and await further instructions.

“This is affecting the east of England and number of other trusts. This is the largest outage of this nature I’ve seen in the six years I’ve been employed with the NHS.”

Doctors have been posting on Twitter about what has been happening to their systems. A screen grab of a instant message conversation circulated by one doctor says: “So our hospital is down … We got a message saying your computers are now under their control and pay a certain amount of money. And now everything is gone.”  

Britain’s National Crime Agency said it was aware of the reports of a cyber attack but made no further comment.

The National Health Service (NHS) said it was responding to the incidents. “We are aware of a cyber security incident and we are working on a response,” said a spokesman for NHS Digital, a division of the NHS which handles information technology issues.

Following a suspected national cyber attack we are taking all precautionary measures possible to protect our local NHS systems and services.

— NHS iMerseyside (@NHSiMerseyside) May 12, 2017

Meanwhile, Spain’s government warned on Friday that a large number of companies had been attacked by cyber criminals who infected computers with malicious software known as “ransomware” that locks up computers and demands ransoms to restore access.

The victims included Telefonica, the nation’s biggest telecommunications firm, while other Spanish firms such as power company Iberdrola and utility Gas Natural took preventive measures. “There has been an alert relating to a massive ransomware attack on various organisations, which is affecting their Windows systems,” Spain’s National Cryptology Centre said in a statement.

The ransomware is a version of the WannaCry virus, which encrypts sensitive user data, the National Cryptology Centre said.

Spain is the latest nation to warn of a global surge in ransomware. Hacks have disrupted services provided by hospitals, police departments, public transportation systems and utilities in the United States and Europe.

It was not immediately clear how many Spanish organizations had been compromised by the attacks, if any critical services had been interrupted or whether victims had paid cyber criminals to regain access to their networks.

Telefonica said in a statement it had detected a “cybersecurity incident” that was limited to some of its employees’ computers on its internal network and it had not affected its clients or services.

The cyber attack involved a window appearing on employees’computer screens that demanded payment with the virtual currency bitcoin in order to gain access to files, a Telefonica spokesman said. “News (of this attack) has been exaggerated and our colleagues are working on it right now,” Telefonica Chief Data Officer Chema Alonso, a well-known cyber security expert, said on Twitter.

Iberdrola and Gas Natural, along with Vodafone’s unit in Spain, asked staff to turn off computers or cut off Internet access in case they had been compromised, representatives from the firms said.

The cyber attack had not affected the provision of the companies’ services or the operation of their networks and the national cybersecurity institute was working to resolve it as soon as possible, the Spanish government said in a statement.

 

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