After hackers disable Hadera Hospital, health systems are preparing for more cyberattacks

After the largest cyber attack in Israeli health history, hospitals are shutting down some of their IT systems to reduce vulnerability.

On Wednesday, Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera was hit by an unresolved ransomware attack, forcing the hospital to shut down its technology network and causing delays in care.

While the hospital was the only one affected, other medical centers are taking precautions out of fear of a follow-up attack. Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem said cyber security teams are working around the clock to check systems and upgrade defenses.

“It’s not necessarily over yet,” Rivka Rudinsky, the hospital’s head of information technology, told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

“Everyone is on the edge of their seats, trying to make sure it’s over, but we still meet and take steps,” she said, calling the scenario “anyone’s nightmare at my job.”

The National Internet Directorate said Wednesday there are growing concerns that other hospitals will be targeted, putting all other hospitals on high alert and prompting many to shut down nonessential systems.

Hospital staff take patient data outside the emergency room at Ziv Hospital in Safed, September 29, 2021 (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

“After the attack, I disconnected anything that was not necessary to run the hospital,” Radovsky said.

This included much of the infrastructure that employees use to access records when they are away from campus, and systems that allow patients to see their medical records.

Computers are central to every aspect of operations in Israel’s high digital health system. For years, hospitals feared a ransomware attack like the ones that disrupted regional health systems in the United States and elsewhere.

“We were prepared for that,” said Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center spokesman Avi Shushan. “We trained, and we knew that protection was the number one priority.”

According to Rudinsky, the attack, and the harbinger that someone else might be in action, created a feeling of uneasiness that usually occurs after mass casualty incidents.

“When I heard, it was like feeling when I heard the siren of air raids, and I rushed to the hospital,” she said. “It felt like an emergency scenario.”

Control room at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. (Courtesy of CLEW)

I have since supervised the update of all systems, checked all servers for security and evaluated all WiFi networks.

Just in case, doctors were directed to the how-to guide I wrote on how to administer temporarily without computers.

Eyal Zemlichman, chief medical officer at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, told The Times of Israel that the system that relays administrative data between several hospitals has been shut down.

“We are deploying more advanced defense mechanisms and working with companies that enhance protection,” Zimlichmann said.

“We were planning attacks like this, but the question is how good the attackers are and whether they can get past the defences,” he said. “Good hackers can hack anything. Now, after the hospital has been attacked, others are taking precautions.”

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