Michael Staines
Michael Staines

18.23 14 May 2021


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Ireland will “not be paying any ransom” to the hackers that compromised the HSE IT systems this morning, according to the Taoiseach.

The HSE has shut down its computer systems after a ransomware attack in the early hours of this morning.

A ransomware’ attack involves hackers gaining access to an entities data and threatening to publish it or encrypt it unless a 'ransom' is paid.

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Officials have confirmed that a ransom demand has been made – and warned that it could take days to fix the system.

Speaking after his meeting with the UK Prime Minister today, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland will not be paying any ransom.

“We are dealing with this in accordance with the advices we have received from cyber security experts and I think we are very clear we will not be paying any ransom, we are very clear on that,” he said. “The work continues by the experts.

He said it is still not clear whether any patient data had been compromised.

“The people with the know-how are on the case on behalf of the state and on behalf of the HSE and are dealing with this in a very comprehensive and methodical way and in accordance with the best advice on matters such as this,” he said.

“This happens. It has happened other systems across Europe and we are going to deal with it in an efficient and methodical way.”

Medical services

Some cancer and maternity appointments have been affected by the attack and the system for referring people for a Covid test and the portal to register for a vaccine are both down.

Vaccine appointments are going ahead as normal.

Gardaí and the National Cyber Security Centre are among the agencies investigating the attack.

covid-19 NO REPRO FEE 04/03/2021 Pictured today is Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, HSE at Dr Steevens’ Hospital for the weekly HSE operational update on the response to Covid-19. Photograph: Leah Farrell / Photocall Ireland

On The Hard Shoulder this evening, HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said it may take days to resolve the issue.

“The HSE website is full of information,” he said.

“We will be updating that in real time as we get more information. It is going to take a number of days. This is a very serious incident in terms of our IT systems.

“It is going to take a number of days to get to the bottom of this, to resolve it and to reopen those systems on which our services depend.”

Ransomware

He said it was a major ransomware attack.

“All national and local services are affected because of the necessitated shutdown of systems to contain damage,” he said.

“We are working with national cyber security and also national and international experts to resolve this. It is going to take a number of days; this is a very serious incident and we have to strive to continue to provide care to patients.”

If you are a close contact or have symptoms of COVID-19, you should self-isolate and phone your GP.

You can also go to any test centre without phoning your GP.

Emergency departments are still open and are ready to deal with all medical emergencies.

Most hospital appointments are still going ahead as planned.

A ransomware attack is one in which hackers threaten to publish data or block access to computers unless a 'ransom' is paid.

In a statement, the HSE said: "There is a significant ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems.

"We have taken the precaution of shutting down all our IT systems in order to protect them from this attack and to allow us fully assess the situation with our own security partners.

"We apologise for inconvenience caused to patients and to the public and will give further information as it becomes available."

HSE Chief Operations Officer Anne O’Connor Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

HSE Chief Operations Officer, Anne O'Connor told Newstalk the attack was a “zero-day threat” which means State IT experts had no experience dealing with it.

She said the extent of the disruption to services will depend on local facilities.

“It will vary site-by-site depending on the systems,” she said.

“We have had to revert to manual work-arounds. We are back to using paper in many cases and t hat will slow things down.

“However, we will do everything we can and as I’ve said we will advise people if their appointment is cancelled. Otherwise they should turn up but they may have to bear with us in terms of those appointments taking a bit longer.”

The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin has said services on Monday and Tuesday will be impacted by the attack.

It is asking people under 36-weeks pregnant not to attend for appointments or scans.

All outpatient appointments and inpatient elective surgeries are cancelled.

Babies under two weeks old should attend their appointments, while babies older than two weeks will be rescheduled.

Anyone who is unsure if they're affected is advised to contact the hospital.


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