Hospital pays hackers $17,000 in Bitcoins to return computer network

In a "ransomware" case, hackers have been paid roughly $17,000 worth of Bitcoins to restore a hospital's computer network.
Written by Jake Smith, Contributor

A Los Angeles hospital has paid 40 Bitcoins, worth roughly $16,700, for access back to its network that was taken down in a type of hack called "ransomware" at the beginning of February.

The disruption caused emergency rooms and treatments to be affected, and fax lines at the hospital were jammed from lack of access to email, an unnamed doctor told NBC 4 last week.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center began noticing issues with its computer network on February 5. The ransomware attack held the computer network hostage, and in the case of hospitals, not having access to computer networks for patient data can prove dangerous.

"The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key," Allen Stefanek, CEO of the hospital, said in a letter. "In the best interest of restoring normal operations, we did this."

On Monday, ten days after the attack began disabling the network, it was restored following the ransom payment. It's not clear how the hackers launched the attack or where the attack originated from.

An FBI spokesperson confirmed to the Associated Press the extortion plot is being investigated. It may prove difficult to track the offenders through payment, as Bitcoin is difficult -- but not impossible -- to track.

In an October 2015 talk unrelated to the Hollywood hospital hack, Assistant Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta, who oversees the FBI's Boston office, echoed how difficult the hackers are to find.

"The easiest thing may be to just pay the ransom," Bonavolonta said."The amount of money made by these criminals is enormous and that's because the overwhelming majority of institutions just pay the ransom."

In June 2015, the FBI issued a notice on CryptoWall, a form of ransomware. It detailed 992 complaints related to CryptoWall between April 2014 and June 2015 with business losses totaling $18 million.

"You do get your access back," Bonavolonta said.

Editorial standards