London: Ireland’s health service has been forced to shut down its IT systems after being targeted in a ransomware attack by what it called “international criminals”.
Appointments and elective surgeries were cancelled at several hospitals on Friday (Saturday AEST) and Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the disruption could last for days.
“There’s lots we don’t know but it appears to be a ransomware attack by international criminals,” Varadkar said. “The problem could run through the weekend and into next week, unfortunately.”
Ransomware attacks are typically carried out by criminal hackers who use malicious software to scramble data, paralysing victims’ networks, and demand a large payment to decrypt it.
Varadkar called the attack “very serious”.
“It’s coming at a time when the health service is extremely busy doing lots of other things,” he said. “It’s going to be a very difficult time for the health service.”
Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid told broadcaster RTE that health bosses had “taken a precautionary measure to shut down a lot of our major systems to protect them”.
“We are at the very early stages of fully understanding the threats, the impact and trying to contain it,” he said.
The health service said appointments for coronavirus vaccinations were not affected. Varadkar said emergency services, ambulance services, GP and pharmacy systems also were unaffected, but said there would be “major problems” for radiology services, radiation oncology, elective surgeries and obstetrics and gynaecology appointments.