Hospital Pays Bitcoin Ransom in Cyberattack

February 18, 2016
Gale Scott

In the first publicized case of a hospital victimized by a cyberattack, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles said it paid about $17,000 to regain access to its electronic medical records after they were shut down by a weeklong cyber attack. The payment was in bitcoin.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA paid nearly $17,000 in bitcoins to get hackers relinquish control of its hospital computer system, the hospital’s chief executive said Feb. 17 in a statement on the hospital website. The case is the first publicized instance of a hospital victimized by ransomware.

The payment came to 40 bitcoins, the online currency.

On Feb. 5, the hackers used malware to encrypt files, which remained inaccessible until the hospital paid for a decryption key, a crime known as ransomware.

Patient records were not compromised, but staff were unable to access them during the malware siege, CEO Allen Stefanek told the Los Angeles Times. The hospital continued to function by using handwritten communications but patients sometimes had to go elsewhere for lab tests and hospital staff could not communicate electronically.

The hackers originally asked for far more, about $3.6 million or 9,000 bitcoins.

The case is still under investigation by local authorities and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Bitcoin is hard to trace and is increasingly used as ransom payment in cyber attacks.

The 434-bed hospital in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles was founded in 1924. It was sold to CHA Medical Center of South Korea in 2004. Hospital services include emergency care, maternity services, cancer care, physical therapy, and specialized operations such as fetal and orthopedic surgeries.