The Health Service Executive has shut down all its IT systems to protect them from a “significant” ransomware attack, crippling diagnostic services, disrupting Covid-19 testing and forcing hospitals to cancel many appointments.
The Covid-19 vaccination programme is not disrupted as it is on a different system, but the attack is affecting IT systems serving all other local and national health provision, HSE chief Paul Reid said.
Minister of State for Communications Ossian Smyth said the cyberattack was not espionage but was led by an international criminal gang looking for money.
He described it as “possibly the most significant cybercrime attack on the Irish State.”
What we know so far
- The attack began at about 4.30am on Friday and health service IT staff switched off all systems as a precaution
- Cancellations and disruptions to services at hospitals are likely until the issues are resolved. It is not yet clear how long this will take – Leo Varadkar said problems could last until next week
- Most appointments are going ahead but X-rays are severely affected. The health service is regularly updating this webpage with any changes
- Covid-19 test results may face delays – the HSE is urging anyone waiting for a result to continue to self-isolate
- Covid vaccination appointments are running as planned
- Emergency departments remain open and ambulance services are continuing as normal
Mr Smyth told RTÉ’s News at One that the attack had been an attempt to lock the HSE out of its own system, to steal the data and then try to ransom it back.
“This is a human-driven attack using an exploit that was previously unknown. They managed to compromise the system early this morning,” he said.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the attack was “very serious” and could affect systems throughout the weekend and into next week.
He said it would be “a very difficult time for the health service” and the situation was “still evolving”.
They differ from a data breach or other types of hacking, which may steal large batches of customer data or other information from companies or individuals.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor warned that if the IT shutdown continues into next week then the health service will be in “a very serious situation.”
Ms O’Connor said the attack was a “zero day threat”, meaning there was no known previous experience of it.
“If this continues into Monday we will be in a very serious situation and we will have to cancel more appointments,” she told RTÉ.
Many clinics and services were continuing on Friday but others have been cancelled and disrupted due to the shutdown. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the attack has had “a severe impact” on health and social care services.
HSE chief Paul Reid said the attack was largely affecting information stored on central servers, not hospital equipment, and that emergency services continued to operate.
He urged the public to plan to attend any health appointments today “unless you hear from us”.
While scheduled Covid-19 tests will go ahead as planned on Friday, the HSE said its referrals system was down, meaning anyone else requiring a test must attend walk-in sites.