3 St. Lawrence County hospitals hit by ransomware

Updated: Oct. 27, 2020 at 5:55 PM EDT
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GOUVERNEUR, N.Y. (WWNY) - St. Lawrence Health System says computers at Canton-Potsdam, Massena and Gouverneur hospitals were attacked by ransomware early Tuesday morning. However, officials said it appears no patient and employee information was compromised.

“The Health System’s Information Systems (IS) department disconnected all systems and shut down the affected network to prevent further propagation,” the health system said in a news release. “These locations are utilizing their established back-up processes including offline documentation methods. Patient care continues to be delivered safely and effectively.”

Ransomware infects computers and displays messages demanding a fee to be paid in order for the computer system to work again.

Health system officials said the virus has been identified as a new variant of Ryuk ransomware “previously unknown to antivirus software providers and security agencies" and that it was discovered within hours of the initial attack.

Officials notified the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and other authorities.

“We implement extensive IS Security controls, measures, and procedures, and are working diligently with our IS Security partners to restore IT operations as quickly as possible,” said Chief Information Officer Lyndon Allen in a prepared statement. “The security measures implemented immediately made it possible to contain the virus and protect our patients and staff.”

The New York State Department of Health confirmed earlier in the day that there had been a cyberattack within the St. Lawrence Health System.

“DOH has been in communication with St. Lawrence Hospital System, which operates Canton-Potsdam Hospital and Gouverneur Hospital, about a cyberattack," said DOH Public Information Officer Jeffrey Hammond. "As a precautionary step, Canton-Potsdam is diverting ambulances to Gouverneur Hospital. DOH will continue to provide support to the St. Lawrence Hospital System and our partners in government in response to this cyberattack.”

The county’s emergency management office tells us ambulances were diverted Canton-Potsdam Hospital earlier in the morning Tuesday, but the diversion was lifted at 9:38 a.m. Officials said to the best of their knowledge, Gouverneur Hospital was still advising ambulances to take patients elsewhere as of late-afternoon.

“At approximately 4:30 this morning, St. Lawrence Health Systems notified St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Department that they are going to be on complete diversion until further notice," said Matt Denner, director, St. Lawrence County Emergency Services.

Again, the state DOH said Canton-Potsdam is diverting ambulances to Gouverneur Hospital.

7 News reached out to St. Lawrence Health System to clarify information about diversion, but officials did not reply. The news release mentioned nothing about it.

“We need our hospital 24/7, 365 days a year, unless it’s leap year. We need them and as soon as they can get back to regular, normal business during these pandemic times, the better off we’ll all be and certainly the better I will feel,” said Gouverneur Mayor Ron McDougall.

“Having analyzed the attack and established a mitigation and remediation plan, the Health System is starting to reboot its information systems and operations progressively and securely, starting today (Tuesday),” the health system stated in its news release. “At this stage, no patient or employee data appears to have been accessed, copied, or otherwise compromised.”

The cyberattack may be similar to what happened at Watertown’s Samaritan Medical Center over the summer.

Samaritan lost access to its computers for three weeks when it was the target of an attack.

Hospitals are frequent targets of hackers because their computer records can literally be a matter of life and death, so hospitals can often be blackmailed into paying to have the malware go away.

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