BREAKING: As Wanna Decryptor 2.0 Spreads Damage Globally, Washington Post Reports on Discovery of a “Kill Switch” That Could Stop It | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

BREAKING: As Wanna Decryptor 2.0 Spreads Damage Globally, Washington Post Reports on Discovery of a “Kill Switch” That Could Stop It

May 13, 2017
by Mark Hagland
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As damage from the Wanna Decryptor 2.0 ransomware virus spread across the world, IT professionals scrambled to come up with durable solutions
The Wanna Decryptor 2.0 message

As a malware attack that has crippled the patient care delivery at the National Health Service in the United Kingdom and affected organizations in nearly 100 countries worldwide beginning early Friday, May12, continued to damage diverse operations globally, The Washington Post reported on Saturday morning on a fortuitous development that might possibly change the landscape around the ransomware, known variously as Wanna Decryptor 2.0, Wanna Cry, Wanna Detector, and under other names.

The Post’s Rick Noack, in a report published at 9:15 AM eastern time U.S. on Saturday morning, wrote that, “As the world began Friday to understand the dimensions of “Wanna Decryptor 2.0,” the ransomware that has crippled computers worldwide, a vacationing British cybersecurity researcher was already several steps ahead. About 3 p.m. Eastern [on Friday, May 12], the specialist with U.S. cybersecurity enterprise Kryptos Logic bought an unusually long and nonsensical domain name ending with “gwea.com.” The 22-year-old says he paid $10.69, but his purchase might have saved companies and governmental institutions around the world billions of dollars. By purchasing the domain name and registering a website,” Noack wrote, “the cybersecurity researcher claims that he activated a kill switch. It immediately slowed the spread of the malware and could ultimately stop its current version, cybersecurity experts said Saturday. Hidden in the malware, the kill switch probably was not supposed to be activated anytime soon. Perhaps it was never supposed to be there in the first place.”

“What it had not counted on was a researcher doing the world a service and taking advantage of a flaw that now seemed glaringly obvious in hindsight,” Robert McArdle, a research director with Tokyo-based cybersecurity company Trend Micro,” told the Post.

“When Darien Huss, a researcher with U.S. cybersecurity company Proofpoint, came across the strange domain in the code Friday evening, he immediately flagged his discovery on social media,” Noack wrote. “Alerted by the finding, a 22-year-old unidentified researcher who tweets using the handle @MalwareTechBlog decided to take action, without knowing what impact registering the domain would have. While spreading to computers, the malware made requests to the unregistered website ending with ‘gwea.com.’ Until about 3 p.m. Friday, all of those requests went unanswered — probably triggering the activation of the malware.”

This series of developments could upend the global situation around the Wanna Decryptor ransomware, as British, U.S. and other national governments, and a host of non-governmental entities, work to try to stop the damage that the ransomware is causing globally. Among those working collaboratively together are the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Following a brief e-mail alert to U.S. healthcare organizations at 11:59 PM on Friday, ONC released further information at 9:43 AM eastern time on Saturday morning,  directing individuals and organizations to the informational resources at the website of the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, and offering general advice on avoiding malware. ONC also asked the question, “What is HHS doing to secure our systems?” and answered the question with the following bullet-pointed information:

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>  HHS Office of the Chief Information Officer implemented enterprise block across all OpDivs and StaffDivs  and is ensuring all patching is up to date.

>  HHS is working with Department of Homeland Security to scan HHS’ CIDR IP addresses through the DHS NCATS program to identify RDP and SMB

>  HHS notified VA and DHA and shared cyber threat information.

>  HHS is coordinating with National Health Service (England) and UK-CERT. HHS through its law enforcement and intelligence resources with the Office of Inspector General and Office of Security and Strategic Information, have ongoing communications and are sharing and exchanging information with other key partners including the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Meanwhile, a news report published early Saturday morning, U.S. eastern time, in The Independent of London, and written by Aatif Suleyman, noted that “The ransomware is taking advantage of EternalBlue, an exploit spies used to secretly break into Windows machines, according to the Register. Microsoft patched the issue earlier this year, but only on the version of the Windows operating system that it continues to support.”

Crucially, Suleyman noted in his report, “Up to 90 per cent of NHS computers still run Windows XP, according to a report published in the BMJ earlier this week. The operating system was released in 2001, and Microsoft cut support for it in 2014. 'People can continue to use the software, but doing so comes with enormous risks,' the report went on, quoting David Emm, the principal security researcher at Kaspersky, as saying that 'Using XP is particularly bad because it’s no longer supported and there’s no way to patch it.'”

Attack continues to spread damage worldwide

As of midday Saturday, U.S. time, the Wanna Decryptor 2.0 ransomware continued its worldwide damage. A report published online in the Madrid daily El País at 11:28 eastern U.S. time (5:28 PM Spanish time) noted that the information security company Avast was counting 99 nations that have been affected so far by the ransomware attack. Among the entities affected, according to El País: the French automaker Renault, which has suspended operations at an unspecified number of plants, after its Sandouville plant in Normandy had its operations affected; hundreds of computers in the Madrid offices of La Telefónica, Spain’s government-run telephone and telecommunications utility; as well as the private companies KPMG, BBVA, Banco Santander, and Iberdrola, in Spain. And a report in the Paris daily Libération on Saturday morning at 11:11 eastern U.S. time quoted a spokesperson at Revoz, Renault’s Slovenian subsidiary, as confirming that the computers at its plant in Novo Mesto had been infected, forcing production stoppage there. A report Saturday morning in the Frankfurt daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted that computers of the German national railway system Deutsche Bahn had been hit by the virus, but quoted a Deutsche Bahn spokesperson as saying that “The train service has not been compromised. There are no restrictions in the remote and local transport. At the train station there are technical faults in the digital display boards,” but that all transportation service is proceeding unimpeded.

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Mark Scott, in a report published online at 7:50 AM eastern time on Saturday, wrote that “While most cyberattacks are inherently global, this one, experts say, is more virulent than most. Security firms said it had spread to all corners of the globe, with Russia hit the worst, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan, said Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm. The attack,” Scott wrote,” is believed to be the first in which such a cyberweapon developed by the N.S.A. has been used by cybercriminals against computer users around the globe. While American companies like FedEx said they had also been hit,” he added, “experts said that computer users in the United States had so far been less affected than others because a British cybersecurity researcher inadvertently stopped the ransomware from spreading,” referring to the Kryptos Logic IT specialist.

“The 22-year-old British researcher, whose Twitter handle is @MalwareTechBlog and who confirmed his involvement but insisted on anonymity because he did not want the public scrutiny,” Scott wrote, “found the kill switch’s domain name—a long and complicated set of letters. Realizing that the name was not yet registered, he bought the name himself. When the site went live, the attack stopped spreading, much to the researcher’s surprise.” Scott quoted Matthieu Suiche, founder of Comae Technologies, a cybersecurity company based in the United Arab Emirates, as saying that “The kill switch is why the U.S. hasn’t been touched so far. But it’s only temporary,” Suiche added. “All the attackers would have to do is create a variant of the hack with a different domain name. I would expect them to do that.”

Meanwhile, the Times report noted, IT professionals all over the world have become involved in the race to stop the spread of the ransomware. “In Taiwan,” Scott wrote, “threads soon began popping up on the popular online message board PTT with users’ tales of how their computers had been infected and tips on how to avoid the virus. Apple Daily, a local tabloid, reported suspicions that at least some of the perpetrators may be from China. The newspaper compared the attackers’ clumsy English used in infection notices with the fluent, and even slightly playful, messages that appeared on computers with Chinese-language operating systems. In China, the virus hit the computer networks of both companies and universities, according to the state-run news media. News about the attack began trending on Chinese social media on Saturday, though most attention was focused on university networks, where there were concerns about students losing access to their academic work.”

The Times report noted that “The attack spread like wildfire in Europe, including to companies like... Telefónica, a Spanish telecommunications firm, though no major service problems had been reported across the region’s transportation or telecommunications networks.” What’s more, “Nissan, the Japanese auto giant, said its manufacturing center in Sunderland in the north of England had been affected, though a spokesman declined to comment on whether the company’s production had been stopped.”

Healthcare Informatics will continue to update readers on this developing story.

 


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Healthcare’s “RegTech” Opportunity: Avoiding a 2008-Style Crisis

September 21, 2018
by Robert Lord, Industry Voice, Co-Founder and President of Protenus
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In the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009, the financial industry suffered a crisis of trust. A decade later, banks and other financial institutions are still working to regain the confidence of consumers and regulators alike. In 2008 and 2009, while working at one of the world’s top hedge funds, I had a front-row seat to the damage that occurred to our economy, watching as storied corporate institutions fell or were gravely damaged. Today, as co-founder of a health technology company, I see healthcare is approaching a similarly dangerous situation. We must get ahead of the curve to avoid disaster.

Like finance, healthcare is a highly-regulated industry where non-compliance can result in severe financial and reputational consequences for healthcare companies, and severe impact on people’s lives. We deal with HIPAA, MACRA, HITECH, and hundreds of other foreboding acronyms on a daily basis. A lot of attention goes to the terrific and important work of clinical decision support, wellness apps, and other patient care technologies, but problems in the back office of hospitals must be addressed as well. One of these problems is the amount and complexity of healthcare regulation, and our healthcare system’s inability to keep up.

In finance, where I spent the early part of my career, the adoption of what is termed “RegTech” (regulatory technology) was driven by the increasing complexity of financial technology and infrastructure sophistication.  As trades moved faster, and as algorithms, processes and organizations became more complex, the technologies needed to ensure regulatory compliance had to move in tandem.  The crisis we experienced in 2008 was partially the result of the inability of the industry’s regulatory capabilities to keep up with the pace of technological change.  In many ways, the industry is still playing a catch-up game.

As healthcare professionals, looking to the lessons learned by our colleagues in finance can help us predict patterns and stay ahead of the curve. Right now, I’m seeing alarming parallels to challenges faced in finance a decade ago.

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Robert Lord

The burden of regulation across our industry is simply staggering.  Thirty-nine billion dollars of regulatory burden is associated with healthcare annually, which is about $1,200 per patient, per year. Despite this high cost, we still have $1 trillion of fraud, waste and abuse in our healthcare system. With so much regulation, why are we seeing so little yield from that burden? In many cases, it’s because we’re merely checking boxes and not addressing core risks؅. Like finance, there was a great deal of effort on compliance with regulations, but not enough attention on addressing important systemic risks.

This is not to say I am against good regulation; in fact, many regulations serve to protect patients and improve care. The problem is that there are so many demands on healthcare systems, that compliance and regulation is often reduced to checking boxes to ensure that minimum defensible processes are built, and occasionally spot-checking that things look reasonable. We currently have nowhere near 100 percent review of activities and transactions that are occurring in our health systems every day, though our patients deserve nothing less. However, unless overburdened and under-resourced healthcare providers and compliance professionals can achieve leverage and true risk reduction, we’ll never be able to sustainably bend our compliance cost curve.

Systemic problems are often not discovered until something goes horribly wrong (e.g., Wall Street every decade or so, the Anthem data breach, etc.). Today In the financial industry, RegTech provides continual, dynamic views of compliance or non-compliance and allows management, compliance professionals and regulators to check compliance in real-time. They can view every record, understand every detail, and automate investigations and processes that would otherwise go undetected or involve lengthy and labor-intensive reviews.

The real promise of these new capabilities is to allow compliance professionals and regulators to perform the truest form of their jobs, which is to keep patient data secure, ensuring the best treatment for patients, and creating sustainable financial models for healthcare delivery. RegTech will open up lines of communication and help create conversations that could never have been had before—conversations about what’s not just feasible for a person to do, but what’s right to do for the people whom regulation seeks to protect.

No longer bound by limited resources that lead to “box-checking,” compliance officers can use new and powerful tools to ensure that the data entrusted to them is protected. At the same time, healthcare management executives can be confident that the enterprises they manage will be well served by risk reducing technological innovation.  Patients, the ultimate beneficiaries of healthcare RegTech, deserve as much.

Robert Lord is the co-founder and president of Protenus, a compliance analytics platform that detects anomalous behavior in health systems.  He also serves as a Cybersecurity Policy Fellow at New America.

 


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HIPAA Settlements: Three Boston Hospitals Pay $1M in Fines for “Boston Trauma” Filming

September 20, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Three Boston hospitals that allowed film crews to film an ABC documentary on premises have settled with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule.

According to OCR, the three hospitals—Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)—compromised the privacy of patients’ protected health information (PHI) by inviting film crews on premises to film "Save My Life: Boston Trauma," an ABC television network documentary series, without first obtaining authorization from patients.

OCR reached separate settlements with the three hospitals, and, collectively, the three entities paid OCR $999,000 to settle potential HIPAA violations due to the unauthorized disclosure of patients’ PHI.

“Patients in hospitals expect to encounter doctors and nurses when getting treatment, not film crews recording them at their most private and vulnerable moments,” Roger Severino, OCR director, said in a statement. “Hospitals must get authorization from patients before allowing strangers to have access to patients and their medical information.”

Of the total fines, BMC paid OCR $100,000, BWH paid $384,000, and MGH paid $515,000. Each entity will provide workforce training as part of a corrective action plan that will include OCR’s guidance on disclosures to film and media, according to OCR. Boston Medical Center's resolution agreement can be accessed here; Brigham and Women’s Hospital's resolution agreement can be found here; and Massachusetts General Hospital's agreement can be found here.

This is actually the second time a hospital has been fined by OCR as the result of allowing a film crew on premise to film a TV series, with the first HIPAA fine also involving the filming of an ABC medical documentary television series. As reported by Healthcare Informatics, In April 2016, New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle potential HIPAA violations in association with the filming of “NY Med.”

According to OCR announcement about the settlement with NYP, the hospital, based in Manhattan, violated HIPAA rules for the “egregious disclosure of two patients’ PHI to film crews and staff during the filming of 'NY Med,' an ABC television series.” OCR also stated the NYP did not first obtain authorization from the patients. “In particular, OCR found that NYP allowed the ABC crew to film someone who was dying and another person in significant distress, even after a medical professional urged the crew to stop.”

The OCR director at the time, Jocelyn Samuels, said in a statement, “This case sends an important message that OCR will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization. We take seriously all complaints filed by individuals, and will seek the necessary remedies to ensure that patients’ privacy is fully protected.” 

OCR’s guidance on disclosures to film and media can be found here.

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Independence Blue Cross Notifies 17K Patients of Breach

September 19, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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The Philadelphia-based health insurer Independence Blue Cross is notifying about 17,000 of its members that some of their protected health information (PHI) has been exposed online and has potentially been accessed by unauthorized individuals.

According to an article in HIPAA Journal, Independence Blue Cross said that its privacy office was informed about the exposed information on July 19 and then immediately launched an investigation.

The insurer said that an employee had uploaded a file containing plan members’ protected health information to a public-facing website on April 23. The file remained accessible until July 20 when it was removed from the website.

According to the report, the information contained in the file was limited, and no financial information or Social Security numbers were exposed. Affected plan members only had their name, diagnosis codes, provider information, date of birth, and information used for processing claims exposed, HIPAA Journal reported.

The investigators were not able to determine whether any unauthorized individuals accessed the file during the time it was on the website, and no reports have been received to date to suggest any protected health information has been misused.

A statement from the health insurer noted that the breach affects certain Independence Blue Cross members and members of its subsidiaries AmeriHealth HMO and AmeriHealth Insurance Co. of New Jersey. Fewer than 1 percent of total plan members were affected by the breach.

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