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Hollywood hospital paid $17,000 in bitcoins to hackers who took control of computers

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 paid a $17,000 ransom in bitcoins to a hacker who seized control of hospital’s computer systems and would only give back access when the money was paid, the hospital’s chief executive said Wednesday.

The assault on Hollywood Presbyterian computers occurred Feb. 5, when hackers using malware infected the institution’s computers, preventing hospital staff from being able to communicate from those devices, said CEO Allen Stefanek. With the help of experts, the hospital was able to restore its electronic medical record system by Monday, he said in a statement.

The hacker demanded 40 Bitcoins the equilavent of about $17,000, he said.

“The malware locks systems by encrypting files and demanding ransom to obtain the decryption key. The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key,” Stefanek said. “In the best in interest of restoring normal operations, we did this.”

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The hospital said it alerted authorities and was able to restore all its computers system by Monday with the assistance of technology experts.

Stefanek insisted patient care was not compromised.

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. Law enforcement sources told the the Times the hospital paid the ransom before reaching out to law enforcement for assistance.

The attack has forced the hospital to return to pen-and-paper for its record keeping.

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Phil Lieberman, a cyber security expert, said while ransomware attacks are common one targeting a medical instiution are not. “I have never heard of this kind of attack trying to shutdown a hospital. This puts lives at risk and it is sicking to see such an act,” he said. “Health management systems are beginning to tighten their security.”

For SoCal crime & investigations follow me on Twitter @lacrimes

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For SoCal crime & investigations follow me on Twitter @lacrimes


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