BERLIN — A ransomware attack has shut down Coos County Family Health Services, a main provider of health services in the Androscoggin Valley.
Coos County Family Health CEO Ken Gordon said the attack affected essentially all of its systems — phone, computer and email.
He said the non-profit organization noticed early Monday morning, before its various clinics opened, that there were abnormalities in the way its systems were running. An examination revealed the entire system had been compromised. He said CCFHS shut down services and worked to prevent further activity on the system.
Gordon confirmed the system had been hit by a ransomware attack but said he could not talk about the attack itself. He emphasized that there is no evidence that patient information has been compromised. He said the organization hopes to have phone service restored by Thursday and to have the entire system back up and running as soon as possible.
“We’re slowly in the process of rebuilding and standing things up,” Gordon said.
On Wednesday, Coos County Family Health Services had its Page Hill Clinic at Androscoggin Valley Hospital open for walk-in care and Dr. Brian Beals and pediatric nurse practitioner Chelsey Andrea were seeing sick children at the Gorham office.
The organization is hoping all four clinics will be open to see patients on a limited basis Thursday.
Coos County Family Health Services operates primary care clinics at 133 Pleasant Street and Page Hill at Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin and at 2 Broadway Avenue in Gorham, offering a wide range of health and social services including primary care, pediatrics, women's health, podiatry and behavioral health. It operates a dental clinic at 73 Main Street in Berlin. CCFHS also runs RESPONSE sites in Berlin, Lancaster, and Colebrook, addressing the needs of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Gordon said the non-profit serves about 15,000 people annually and offers services on a sliding fee scale for those without insurance or with large deductibles.
The ransomware attack comes in the middle of a pandemic that has taxed health-care providers. Gordon said he feels patients and providers are all emotionally fatigued from COVID-19 and a ransomware attack makes the work more difficult. He said during COVID many patients postponed routine health-care visits and there has been a push to reschedule those visits. The ransomware attack will delay some appointments just as Gordon said they were working to get people caught up.
Gordon said Coos County Family Health Services is constantly working to make sure its systems are secure and particularly in the last couple of years has invested in measures to guard against cyberattacks. That includes endpoint protection which secures access to the organization’s internal network.
Gordon said there has also been training for staff on using the computer properly.
“So, we really can say, with complete confidence that we've done everything any health-care or other company would do to protect its systems, and it was just our bad luck,” Gordon said.
He said that the University of Vermont Medical Center was hit by a ransomware attack last fall.
That attack affected more than 5,000 hospital computers and laptops that encrypted files and data on 1,300 servers.
The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that cyberattacks on health-care systems have spiked during the pandemic. Hackers gain entry to a computer system, encrypt the files that run it, and then demand payment for a decryption key to unlock access.
The U.S. government site, Stop Ransomware, reported that one ransomware attacker has targeted 16 U.S. health-care and first responder networks within the past year.
A recent Forbes magazine article reported ransomware attacks are increasing in scale, sophistication and frequency, victimizing governments, individuals and private companies around the world. The article said last year ransomware payments exceeded $400 million, more than four times the level in 2019.
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