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Cyber extortionists zap computers at Hollywood hospital

The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in 2004. The hospital was recently the target of a ransomware extortion plot in which hackers seized control its computer systems and then demanded that directors pay in bitcoin to regain access.

The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in 2004. The hospital was recently the target of a ransomware extortion plot in which hackers seized control its computer systems and then demanded that directors pay in bitcoin to regain access.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was the target of a ransomware extortion plot in which hackers seized control of the hospital’s computer systems and then demanded that directors pay in bitcoin to regain access, according to law enforcement sources.

Ransomware attacks on business data systems are becoming an increasingly common form of cyber crime. The assault on Hollywood Presbyterian computers occurred Feb. 5, when hackers prevented hospital staff from accessing patient information, according to law enforcement sources, who were not authorized to discuss the details of the investigation. The hackers then demanded an unspecified sum of computer currency.

Top hospital officials called the Los Angeles Police Department last week, according to Los Angeles Police Lt. John Jenal.

Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, said the bureau has now taken control of the hacking investigation, but declined to discuss specifics of the case.

The attack has forced the hospital to return to pen-and-paper for its record keeping, and cyber security experts are addressing system weaknesses, according to sources.

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Hospital officials did not return repeated telephone calls. However, a hospital voice message told callers that no patient records had been compromised in the cyber attack.

Ransomware attacks typically infect files or download programs that encrypt the victim’s data before cutting off access. A message then appears on the victim’s computer screen demanding a ransom in bitcoin. Experts say hackers demand computer currency instead of traditional cash because it provides them with greater anonymity.

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