Cyber ​​attack on Indian hospital highlights security risk

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian capital’s main hospital returned to normal Wednesday after a cyberattack paralyzed its operations for nearly two weeks.

Online patient registration resumed on Tuesday after the hospital was able to access its server and recover lost data. The hospital worked with federal authorities to restore the system and strengthen its defenses.

It is unclear who carried out the Nov. 23 attack on the All India Institute of Medical Sciences or where it originated from. Hospital authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

The attack was followed by a series of failed attempts to hack India’s leading medical research organization, the Indian Council of Medical Research. This has raised further concerns about the vulnerability of India’s healthcare system to attack at a time when the government is pushing hospitals to digitize their records.

More than 173,000 hospitals have signed up for a federal program to digitize medical records since its launch in September 2021. The program assigns patient numbers linked to medical information stored by hospitals on their servers or in cloud-based storage. Experts fear hospitals may lack the expertise to ensure digital safety.

“Digitizing an entire healthcare system without actually safeguarding it can practically kill an entire hospital. Suddenly it stops working,” said Srinivas Kodali, a researcher with the Free Software Movement of India.

This is what happened at the New Delhi hospital. Healthcare workers could not access patient reports because the servers storing lab data and patient records had been hacked and corrupted.

The hospital typically treats thousands of people a day, many of whom travel from distant locations to access affordable care. Always crowded, the queues at the hospital became even longer and more chaotic.

“The whole system is down due to hacking,” said Deep Ranjan, who arrived in New Delhi from the northeastern state of Assam. He said he spent five days waiting in line and still hadn’t seen a doctor.

Sandeep Kumar, who accompanied his ailing father, said the digital attack meant that appointments could not be booked online and doctors could do little when seeing patients because they could not access their medical history.

“We’re digitizing (everything), but then there’s an attack on the most important medical institution in the country,” he said.

On November 30, there were repeated but ultimately failed attempts to hack the website of the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The attack on the hospital has raised “serious questions about the country’s cyber security,” said KC Venugopal, a member of parliament from the main opposition Congress party.

India drafted a bill last month regulating data privacy, but critics say it offers few safeguards for people. It has not yet been approved by Parliament.

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Associated Press reporter Piyush Nagpal contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Science and Educational Media Group of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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