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Universal Health Services Gets Slammed by Cyber Attack

Universal Health Services is slammed by a cyberattack that hobbles computer systems, hijacks data and thrusts its hospitals into chaos.

Universal Health Services  (UHS) , one of the largest U.S. healthcare chains, was hit by a major cyberattack that hobbled its computer systems and thrust the healthcare provider into chaos as it continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press reported that UHS, which operates more than 250 hospitals and other clinical facilities in the U.S., was hit with the cyberattack that rendered its computer systems, digital information and even telephone systems inoperable, forcing doctors and nurses to resort to paper backup systems as they navigated the outage.

John Riggi, senior cybersecurity adviser to the American Hospital Association, told the AP that it was a “suspected ransomware attack," affirming reporting on the social media site Reddit by people identifying themselves as UHS employees.

BleepingComputer, an online cybersecurity news site, spoke to UHS employees who described ransomware with the characteristics of "Ryuk," a type of malware that has been widely linked to Russian cybercriminals and used against large enterprises.

In a statement posted to its website, UHS blamed the outage on an unspecified IT “security issue,” without providing additional detail on the incident. The company did note, however, that no patient or employee data "appears to have been accessed, copied or misused."

Meanwhile, UHS workers told the AP that facilities in Texas and Washington, D.C. went through “mad scrambles” after the outage began overnight on Sunday.

Criminals have been increasingly targeting healthcare institutions with ransomware during the pandemic, infecting networks with malicious code that scrambles data. To unlock it, they demand payment.

For UHS, the attack froze critical computer systems and access to information, which in turn prevented medical staff from viewing lab results, imaging scans, medication lists, and other critical pieces of information doctors rely on, according to the AP.

Earlier this month, the first known fatality related to ransomware occurred in Duesseldorf, Germany, after an attack caused IT systems to fail and a critically ill patient needing urgent admission died after she had to be taken to another city for treatment.

Shares of UHS were down 2.32% at $101.99 in trading on Tuesday.