Reason behind sharing of decryption tool in HSE cyberattack ‘still unclear’

Reason behind sharing of decryption tool in HSE cyberattack ‘still unclear’

IT IS “STILL unclear” why a decryption key has been made available in the HSE cyber attack, a minister said today.

A decryption tool that might help the HSE to unlock its IT system following the widespread cyber attack last week is available online. 

Taoiseach Michéal Martin said yesterday that the reason the tool was provided was unknown.

Minister of State Niall Collins has confirmed this afternoon that it is “still unclear” why the decryption key was made available.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Katie Hannon, Collins said that work is ongoing to determine whether or not the decryption key is functional. 

“The HSE is a hugely complex organisation, there’s over 80,000 devices across the HSE, which have to be checked as part of the whole response to this cyber attack,” Collins said.

The minister said that we need to “have a stepped up public awareness campaign over the next number of days to highlight to people, particularly vulnerable people”, the dangers posed by criminal organisations operating in the cyber sphere.

Vice President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) Dr Gabrielle Colleran, a consultant radiologist in Holles Street, said it has been “by far the most difficult eight days” of her time in the HSE since joining the body in 2003.

Healthcare workers in Holles Street were tackling multiple challenges when they came into work last Friday, including disconnected computers, no working phones, and no access to patients’ records.

Dr Colleran said staff were “trying to piece together the picture of the clinical puzzle from conversations with each other”.

Interim measures, such as using mobile phones to communicate and taking notes by hand, were “quickly locking into place to try to keep the show on the road”.

However, “the reality is it’s so much slower when we are doing things by hand, when we don’t have access to the priors, it’s not the safe, high quality service that we want to provide and it’s much slower”.

Dr Colleran said it is “clear we’re going to have to invest coming out of this and it’s important that we invest not just in the hardware and the software, but in having the local expertise on site”.

“Many [healthcare workers in model three hospitals] have been quite affected by the fact that the expertise is centralised and not local on the ground. So it’s very important that we invest wisely in solutions that work, and solutions that work come from the frontline.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson for health David Cullinane said that “priority has to be to get services back up and running as quickly as possible”.

“We do need to have a conversation about cyber security and funding,” Cullinane said.

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“We can’t take our eye off the ball in that area, because if criminal gangs can penetrate our healthcare system like that and almost bring it to its knees at a very vulnerable time, obviously more needs to be done.” 

The HSE has received a High Court injunction to stop data that might have been stolen during the attack being used illegally.

The injunction requires anyone possessing the HSE data to return it and not to disclose, trade, or deal in the information.

The public has been advised to be cautious of call and text scams by fraudsters taking advantage of fear around the attack on the HSE.