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Double face-palm: Paying ransomware with a viable back-up

Over the last three years, hospitals and medical offices have been increasingly targeted by attackers. This trend will continue this year and well beyond. Hancock Health, a regional hospital located in Indiana, red-flagged suspicious activities indicative of an attack on January 1 of this year.

The end manifestation of the attack was the employees being locked out of their systems and received a welcoming ransomware. This may not appear to be that debilitating, however when the extent of the encryption was noted, the issue was significant. The target was great than 1400 files. The file extensions were modified to add “.imsorry” at the end of the file. This rather daunting message was met with the hospital paying the ransom to secure the decrypt key. In the environment, this is not the norm. There are a number of significant issues with paying the ransom, including the attacker not providing the decrypt key, leaving behind a bit of special malware to be used later, other access points, and many other reasons not to pay.

The hospital indicated no evidence of their patient information being released or sold. The curious aspect to this was hospital paid $55k to the attackers for the ransom, while they had viable back-ups. This is the anomaly, as it is mostly advised not to pay this. The rationale was the process to restore the back-ups would have cost more than the ransom. This calculation does not seem as if this took into consideration all the germane factors.

The successful attack was not due to a phishing campaign, but through the hospital’s remote access portal, using a third-party vendor’s credentials. The ransomware applied was SamSam or Samas. This provides a lesson for other operators. This could have been avoided or mitigated with training and alert users. Plus, there are a number of programs available for training the users…which should be done throughout the year.

About the Author - Charles Parker, II has been working in the info sec field for over a decade, performing pen tests, vulnerability assessments, consulting with small- to medium-sized businesses to mitigate and remediate their issues, and preparing IT and info sec policies and procedures. Mr. Parker’s background includes work in the banking, medical, automotive, and staffing industries.

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