Large Cyber Attack Hits England’s NHS Hospital System; Ransoms Demanded

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England’s National Health Service is scrambling to respond to a large cyber attack that has crippled its ability to treat patients, after computer users in the public health system were hit with a pop-up message demanding a ransom for access to their machines.

An IT worker at the public healthcare system tells The Guardian newspaper that it’s the biggest problem they’ve seen in their six years in the service.

The problem erupted around 12:30 p.m. local time, the IT worker says, with a number of email servers crashing. Other services soon went down — and then, the unidentified NHS worker says, “A bitcoin virus pop-up message had been introduced on to the network asking users to pay $300 to be able to access their PCs. You cannot get past this screen.”

Confirming news of the attack, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center says it is working with both the digital office of the NHS and law enforcement.

Images that were posted online of the NHS pop-up look nearly identical to pop-up ransomware windows that hit Spain’s Telefonica, a powerful attack that forced the large telecom to order employees to disconnect their computers from its network — resorting to an intercom system to relay messages, according to the Bleeping Computer website.

The attack in Spain has been blamed on a piece of malware called WannaCry, or WCry, as Financial Times security editor Sam Jones reports.

NPR has reached out to the National Health Service for more information. In recent weeks, many of the system’s media channels have been idled during a mandatory quiet period leading up to the U.K.’s parliamentary elections on June 8.

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