The Miami Family Medical Centre in Australia is facing a scary prospect – it may lose the medical records of its patients forever, thanks to a group of hackers who broke into the digital records and encrypted them. It is a melancholy case of “so near and yet so far”, as the records still exist as data accessible to the facility. Only, not in a form that anybody can read.
In exchange for the key which will unencrypt the medical center's data, the hackers are demanding a ransom of 4,000 Australian dollars, which is equivalent to about $4,196. Simply put, unless the center gives into the demands, or figures out how to crack the code on their own, they may lose the data forever.
David Wood, co-owner of the medical facility insists that the data was under good security. “We’ve got all the antivirus stuff in place,” Wood told ABC News. “There’s no sign of a virus. They literally got in, hijacked the server and then ran their encryption software.”
Without the medical records, it will be, in Wood's own words, a “very, very, very difficult” task of running the facility.
The choice seems a very simple one – $4,200 to get back the documents back, so that operations may resume as normal. After all, the well-being of people is involved. It can even be argued that it isn't an exceptionally expensive demand – but, in an interview with ABC News, former investigator with the Australian High-Tech Crime Centre Nigel Phair explained that extortionists often follow up one ransom demand with another, and never actually hold up their end of the deal.
A digital barrier stands guard between sensitive data and hackers – what happens when they break it?
This incident illustrates the dangers of an era where even vital records have widely gone digital. Any programmer or IT expert worth his salt will be quick to admit that computers cannot and do not think. They only ever do exactly what they are told. Without – and sometimes even with – secure measures in place to eliminate the possibility that computers will take instructions from the wrong person, they will do precisely that.
But as bleak as the possibilities for digital data may be, there are pros and cons to every method of data recording. In the past, physical media was certainly not impervious to destruction – while attempts to hold such records ransom was certainly much more unlikely, physical mediums are subject to decay, fire, theft – and perhaps more commonly – human error and forgetfulness.
While the incident will lead some to question the modern methods of storing information, perhaps the most immediate thing it does is to teach a lesson that Woods had to learn the hard way. In his own words, “Check your IT security and don’t leave backups connected to servers.”