The Irish health service has been hit by a “very sophisticated” ransomware attack

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© Reuters. The Irish national flag flies over the President’s residence in Dublin on August 25, 2018. REUTERS / Dylan Martinez – RC12C3B40540

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By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The Irish healthcare provider shut down all IT systems on Friday to protect it from a “significant” ransomware attack that is crippling diagnostic services and forcing hospitals to cancel many appointments.

The country’s COVID-19 vaccination program was not disrupted, but the attack impacted IT systems that serve all other local and national health services, the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) said.

The HSE shut down IT systems as a precautionary measure to protect as much information as possible and examined how the attack would affect other services, said CEO Paul Reid.

Reid said the cyber attack, which was discovered in the early hours of Friday morning, was a “human-powered ransomware attack in which they would try to get access to data and get a ransom for it”.

The HSE had not received a ransom note “at this point” and understood the threat at a very early stage, he added.

“It’s a very sophisticated attack, not just the standard attack. It affects all of our national and local systems that would be involved in all of our core services,” Reid told national broadcaster RTE.

“The vaccination program is kindly continued, it is a separate system.”

Reid said the attack mainly affected information stored on central servers rather than hospital equipment.

The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin said there would be significant disruption to all services on Friday. Another maternity hospital in the capital has canceled all outpatient appointments for the day, except for women who are 36 weeks pregnant or need urgent help.

At Cork University Hospital, medical oncologist Seamus O’Reilly (NASDAQ :), whose staff arrived at the city’s largest hospital, came to paralyze his IT systems with all computers turned off.

“Our primary concern is patient safety and potentially great results. Laboratory data that must be available to manage patient care today. This is very stressful for patients,” he told RTE.

Ransomware attacks typically infect computers with malicious software, often downloaded by clicking seemingly innocuous links in emails or other website pop-ups. Users are banned from their systems and a ransom is required to be paid for restoring computer functionality.

They are different from a data breach or other type of hacking that can steal large amounts of customer data or other information from companies or individuals.

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