New York lawmakers vowed to fight cyber hack attacks on hospitals and schools

The New York state legislature has promised to make helping local governments, schools and hospitals protect themselves from cyber ransomware attacks their top priority during the 2023 legislature.

It comes after a wave of such attacks hit institutions across the Empire State, with the computer systems of a major Brooklyn hospital network and the Suffolk County government being crippled by hackers over the past year.

“This is a top item on my 2023 agenda,” said Steven Otis, Chair of the Assembly Science and Technology Committee.

“I’m particularly sensitive when local governments and school districts are targets of ransomware attacks,” Otis said. “We need to switch to preventive mode.”

A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that ransomware attacks on hospitals and other medical facilities more than doubled from 2016 to 2021 — from 43 to 91 nationwide, and that number is likely understated .

Hospitals are among the top targets for hackers because of all the personal information they store about patients.

The computer database systems for the Brooklyn One Health System, which contain private patient information and medical records, were disabled by hackers last November. The hospital network — which includes Brookdale, Interfaith and Kingsbrook Jewish Hospitals — has been forced to revert to a manual, pen-and-paper system.

The hacking forced Interfaith Medical Center and other hospitals in the system to use a manual system for records.
The hacking forced Interfaith Medical Center and other hospitals in the system to use a manual system for records.
Paul Martinka

Hackers also broke into a Suffolk County web server in a cyberattack on September 8, 2022 and demanded a $2.5 million ransom. An investigation found that the hackers first penetrated Suffolk’s database in December 2021, exploited a flaw in the software and stayed there for nine months before releasing a ransomware note worth $2.5 million were demanded.

Even the Metropolitan Opera box office was hacked last month.

“Ransomware attacks and cyber hackers are the existential threat of our time,” said former state senator Diane Savino, chair of the Internet and Technology Committee and now senior adviser to New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

“Sometimes you deal with terrorist organizations. Hackers support and support criminal companies. The federal government has done almost nothing.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul last year appointed the state’s first chief cyber officer, Colin Ahern, to oversee anti-hacking efforts and said the state has stepped up hacking defenses after Russia invaded Ukraine.

State senators responsible for homeland security and technology are considering holding hearings on ransomware threats to cybersecurity this year.

“We should do more to protect local governments, as well as state governments, from ransomware attacks,” said Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn), the new chair of the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee.

Advisors to Mayor Adams said they had anti-hacking programs in place.

“The Adams administration is taking bold, proactive steps to protect the city and its nearly 9 million residents from malicious cyberattacks targeting our critical infrastructure and essential services,” said a spokesman for the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation.

“From establishing a joint security operations center to coordinate cybersecurity efforts between city, state and federal agencies, to establishing an academy to train city employees to investigate cyber incidents in their agencies, the city has prioritized efforts to combat today’s complexities – and increasingly costly — cyber threats.”

The agency also encourages New Yorkers to download Cyber ​​Command’s NYC Secure app to protect their phones from cyber threats.