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Crime in Hong Kong

After Singapore medical data hack, Hong Kong’s Department of Health becomes latest cyberattack victim

Three computers hit by ransomware which leaves data inaccessible, just days after Singapore health authorities lose records of 1.5 million patients to hackers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 10:51pm

Hong Kong’s Department of Health has become the latest victim of a cyberattack after three of its computers were hit by ransomware which left data inaccessible, prompting police to open a criminal investigation.

The targeted computers belonged to the department’s Infection Control Branch, Clinical Genetic Service and Drug Office and were infiltrated in the two weeks since July 15.

“Files stored on the computers were encrypted by ransomware, and an email address to contact for a decryption key was left behind, but no ransom was demanded,” a department spokeswoman said.

The computers did not contain any confidential personal information, and no data had been leaked, she said.

There were also backup files available containing the same data as that encrypted.

In line with government guidelines, the department reported the incidents to the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer and police force.

“Users could turn on the machines but could not gain access to some of the files encrypted,” a police source said.

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Although no ransom was made, he said: “We believe the motive behind the attacks is a demand for money.

“But we are still investigating the source of the attacks. It is possible the computers were infected when their users browsed unsafe websites or opened hyperlinks or attachments in emails.”

Health care systems have increasingly become a target for hackers worldwide. Some of the culprits have tried to sell the data they stole to parties wanting it for identity theft. Others have tried to extract ransom payments from hospitals locked out of patient data systems.

Last month, hackers stole the health records of 1.5 million Singaporeans including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The attack was the city state’s biggest ever data breach, and authorities said it was a “deliberate, targeted and well-planned” strike.

Singapore hit by ‘most serious’ cyberattack, resulting in theft of health data of 1.5 million people – including the prime minister

Hong Kong has also seen several major hacking cases in recent months. In April, the personal data of 380,000 Hong Kong Broadband Network customers, including details of more than 40,000 credit cards, were accessed without authorisation.

In January, computers at two local travel agencies – Goldjoy Holidays and Big Line Holiday – were hacked and their clients’ personal information held for ransom. Police later arrested a 30-year-old suspect.

In November, one of Hong Kong’s largest travel agencies, WWPKG Holdings, revealed its customer database had also been hacked, putting at risk personal data such as ID card numbers and the credit card information of 200,000 customers.

The hackers demanded a seven-figure ransom, to be paid in bitcoin, but the firm did not comply and instead called police, who later managed to decrypt the locked data.

In Hong Kong, the offence of blackmail carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Police on Thursday called on the public to be vigilant when using computers. In addition to installing antivirus software, users should refrain from visiting or downloading any files from suspicious websites, and should not open suspicious emails, attachments or hyperlinks, officers said.