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Cleveland-area hospital goes offline after apparent cyberattack

Hospitals have become particularly sensitive to ransomware attacks, which can cause interruptions or delays to potentially lifesaving care.
Ashtaboula County Medical Center in Ashtaboula, Ohio.
Ashtaboula County Medical Center, in Ohio, was forced to go offline last week.Google Maps

A Cleveland-area hospital has spent more than a week offline after being hit by an apparent cyberattack, forcing it to postpone all elective procedures.

The Ashtabula County Medical Center took its computer systems offline last Monday, Sept. 21, CEO Michael Habowski said in a press release Tuesday.

“As a result of this incident, we have postponed all elective procedures through Wednesday, Sept. 30,” Habowski said. “Our emergency department remains open to life-threatening emergencies and walk-in patients, and our outpatient departments and physician offices are continuing to provide care for patients."

Brett Callow, an analyst at the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, said that the attack appeared to be ransomware, a type of malicious software that criminal hackers use to encrypt files and shut down computers. The hackers then demand payment to restore the systems.

While ransomware hackers target a number of industries, hospitals have become particularly sensitive, as it can cause interruptions or delays to potentially lifesaving care.

“This certainly has all the hallmarks of a ransomware attack and, if so, Ashtabula County Medical Center would be the 53rd U.S. health care provider or health care system to be impacted by ransomware so far this year,” Callow said.

A number of hospitals have been hit by ransomware this month alone.

Universal Health Services, a nationwide hospital chain, is dealing with a devastating apparent ransomware attack that’s caused outages at all of its facilities. In Germany, authorities are investigating the death of a woman who died after a ransomware attack on the hospital where she was having surgery forced her to relocate to a different facility.