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Oh bugger... ransomware and hospitals

19 May 2021

So far, as a nation, New Zealand has got off pretty lightly when it comes to weathering the storm that is ransomware.

Whilst the USA suffered a major petroleum pipeline outage and other countries have had key bits of infrastracture also disrupted by the scourge that is ransomware, we've been largely unaffected.

Until yesterday.

Some time overnight, the IT systems used by Waikato Hospital seem to have been infected with what (at the time I write this) seem to be a form of the "Conti" ransomware and this has caused major disruption to a wide range of services.

Not only have the medical records and internal communications systems failed but even the phone system has crashed.

Now it's all very well extorting money from huge corporations that are richer than God but putting people's lives in jeopardy by hitting hospitals and other life-critical services is a whole different level of evil.

I notice that officials in the USA seemed to take a relatively relaxed approach to the malware threat when hospitals in that country were hit... but as soon as it struck the oil industry there was a far greater official response. Yes, money trumps lives once again in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I wonder what NZ will do in the face of this nasty attack that could, if we were very unlucky, cost lives?

The reality is that there's bugger all we can do.

The only way to deal effectively with the ransomware threat is to make sure that your backup strategies and practices are impeccable and that you've trained your staff about the importance of avoiding socially engineered vectors for malware delivery.

Whilst the former is quite practical, I suspect that the latter is never going to be 100 percent effective, given the levels of staff turnover and the "human element" that will always usurp even the best training.

Of course all this makes my column of last Friday (The best paid IT job will surprise you) even more relevant.

Perhaps if nothing else, this attack will remind us all to keep those backups current, safe and multi-generational so as to reduce to a minimum, the disruption that such an incident can produce.

Of course I was scheduled to have an MRI at Waikato today so the timing couldn't have been more inconvenient for me.

But hey, putting your head in a machine that has a rapidly spinning high-power magnet cooled by liquid helium and is in the control of evil hackers half a world away doesn't scare me. After all... what could possibly go wrong?

Yes, I *am* smiling.

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