Toronto children’s hospital confirms it was hit by ransomware

The impact of the ransomware attack that hit Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children may last for weeks.

In an online statement today the hospital said it anticipates that it will be a matter of weeks before all systems are functioning as normal. There is no evidence to date that personal information or personal health information has been impacted.

Clinical and operational teams are implementing backup procedures for systems that are not yet accessible, the statement says. “This is a fluid and evolving situation that is still under investigation,” it adds.

“While we can confirm this is a ransomware attack, SickKids has been preparing for attacks of this nature, and mobilized quickly to mitigate potential impacts to the continuity of care. We have rapidly engaged with third-party expert organizations and law enforcement to bring a resolution to the situation as quickly as possible.”

UPDATE: Late December 23rd the hospital said while it anticipates it could still be weeks until all affected systems are completely online, it is optimistic about the progress that has been made towards restoring its systems. Phone lines are now accessible, and the internal timekeeping system for staff payroll is back online. However, some patients and families may still experience diagnostic and/or treatment delays.

Urgent and emergent care as well as scheduled appointments and procedures are continuing, even as impacted systems are being brought back online. However, clinical teams are currently experiencing delays with retrieving lab and imaging results, which the hospital says may cause longer wait times for patients and families.

Patients and families can continue to communicate with their care teams as they normally would, the hospital says. There is no evidence to date that personal information or personal health information has been impacted.

SickKids, which dates back to 1875, is Canada’s largest hospital for treating children. It operates with a $1.21 billion annual budget, 62 per cent of which comes from the province of Ontario.

Ransomware attacks on hospitals are continuing at much the same rate as ever, noted Brett Callow, a British Columbia-based threat analyst and ransomware specialist with Emisisoft. “Realistically, we haven’t made nearly enough headway in tackling the ransomware problem. If we don’t find ways to protect our healthcare system, people may die. And that’s especially true at a time when our hospitals are already stretched to. and in some cases beyond, breaking point.”

Robert Wong, who recently headed a provincial expert panel into cybersecurity in the Ontario broader public sector — which includes healthcare — said it’s very unfortunate to hear that Sick Kids Hospital has been a victim of a ransomware attack. “It’s despicable that a health care centre that treats the most vulnerable patients (our children) is targeted, especially at this time of the year. It just reinforces the fact that no institution, however big or small, is immune to these types of attacks. Constant awareness of these risks and vigilance by everyone are critical to preventing these events from occurring. I hope Sick Kids will be able to restore full service to their systems as soon as possible and be able to provide vital services to their patients without hindrances.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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