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Government urged to consider paying ransom or 'doing a deal' with HSE hackers to get systems back to normal

Several Oireachtas members said there has been a “considerable shift in opinion” around the attack.
May 19th 2021, 5:57 PM 27,170 51

SOME TDs AND Senators, including a number of members of government parties, are urging the Government to consider paying the ransom to the HSE hackers to ensure that the health service can return to some semblance of normality. 

The HSE’s IT systems have been hit by a Conti ransomware attack, where attackers enter into a computer system, study how it works, and encrypt the private data before announcing the attack to the victim and demanding a ransom in order for the data not to be published online or sold off to a third party. 

Several Oireachtas members told The Journal that there is now a “considerable shift in opinion” surrounding the attack among TDs and senators, including within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.  

The Government has repeatedly said it will not pay the ransom. When asked about it this morning, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told Morning Ireland: “Yeah, and we’re not talking to anyone.”

“The response can’t be just talking to hackers and paying the ransom, it has to be protecting the networks, restoring the networks, and putting up all necessary defences to avoid that happening.”

However the impact of the attack has led to certain cohorts within Government parties to call for the ransom to be paid, or for “a deal [to be] done”. 

TDs belonging to the Communications Committee were left “underwhelmed” and “frustrated” after they received a private briefing from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) yesterday concerning the cyber attack.

It was described as amounting to a “history lesson about the NCSC” and not much more by one member of the committee. 

Ransom payment issues

However, paying the ransom brings with it its own problems. 

Cybersecurity expert Ronan Murphy explained the tricky area between a rock and a hard place that the country now finds itself in. 

“There’s the argument that you don’t pay the ransom ever, as doing so is just giving these organised criminals the resources to continue what they’re doing. I understand that. 

“But for this one, it’s quite different. You are literally dealing with life and death and the decision on whether to pay is now an emotional one as well as a rational one,” he explained.

However, even paying the ransom does not guarantee that the hacking threat is over. It’s understood the threat is still ongoing and hackers are accessing more parts of the encrypted servers which were compromised by the initial breach last week. 

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While the Defence Forces and gardaí continue to try to stop the hack, the Financial Times reported it had seen screenshots and files proving that medical and personal information belonging to HSE patients had been shared online – in what it called the first confirmation of a data leak since the HSE ransomware attack.

The paper reported that as well as patient data, health service files and equipment purchase details had also been taken, and a ransom of $20 million (around €16.3 million) had been sought.

When asked about the report on Morning Ireland, Eamon Ryan said that he has seen the Financial Times article, and that it “seems credible”.

Speaking last night, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said “no effort is being spared” in the fight against the hackers and that he hopes to have certain diagnostic departments open.

“What we’re focusing on right now are radiology and diagnostics, radiation oncology, patient administration and voluntary hospitals.

“There is some good news there, progress is being made. There are teams working on this, there are hundreds of people across the system working on this.

“Radiology and diagnostics, there is good progress being made – similarly for radiation oncology in the patient administration system. That’s really important, so the hospital knows who’s meant to be coming in, they can prepare,” he said.

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Garreth MacNamee

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