Ransomed hospital pays $17K to hackers to restore computer access

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A Los Angeles hospital has paid $17,000 worth of bitcoins to restore access to its computer network, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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“The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key,” Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center CEO Allen Stefanek said. “In the best interest of restoring normal operations, we did this.”

Hackers used a malicious "ransomware" application to encrypt data on the hospital’s computer system, demanding payment in exchange for a decryption key. The assault forced the hospital to revert to pen and paper and fax machines to handle patient data.

According to Stefanek, neither patient care nor hospital records were affected by the outage.

Security experts have warned the use of ransomware — software that locks down an internal IT system until payment is made — is on the rise

One of the most infamous strains of ransomware, known as CryptoWall, is responsible for $325 million in damage, according to a recent report.

Many victims simply pony up. One 2014 study from the U.K. suggested that around 40 percent of the victims of a common ransomware software paid to regain access to their data.

Some reports have suggested the FBI advises victims to pay the ransom.

“The ransomware is that good. ... To be honest, we often advise people just to pay the ransom,” Joseph Bonavolonta, assistant special agent in charge of the Cyber and Counterintelligence Program in the FBI’s Boston office, said during a cybersecurity conference last fall.

Law enforcement sources told the Times the hospital paid the ransom before it contacted law enforcement.

Although Hollywood Presbyterian officials previously indicated the attack was random, security experts warn that as cybercriminals grow more sophisticated, so too does their selection of victims.

“Much like surge pricing for taxis, cybercriminals now target and calculate their ransomware pricing based on company size, market value and much more,” Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance, said in a release last month.