NL officials are suspicious of the source of the disruption in the healthcare system


Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador are refusing to reveal information about a health system failure that has already resulted in the cancellation of thousands of appointments and procedures, and has no end in sight.

Sources told CBC News that the computer network failure was due to a ransomware attack, a type of cybersecurity breach where hackers take control of a system and only let go after the ransom has been paid.

During question period and speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Siobhan Coady repeatedly refused to confirm that a cyberattack had taken place, despite the government calling in ” cybersecurity experts ”and that the RCMP has opened an investigation into the matter.

“This is still happening and we are working with the RCMP,” Coady said in response to two consecutive questions from CBC News.

Coady declined to confirm whether the issues were due to a ransomware attack, and she did not say whether the government received a ransom note.

Health Minister John Haggie said the government was unlikely to be able to give more information this week.

“If this is a safety issue, it would be totally inappropriate for me to say more than what was safe because safety issues are not the same as health,” he said. -he declares.

In time

He said he was not yet sure whether people’s personal health information had been compromised by the disruption.

Haggie said the province’s medical system has been delayed about 40 years in terms of technology due to computer systems failure.

“What actually happened was we went back to a paper-based system that was in place in the 1980s with minimal connectivity,” he said.

Although the issues affect Eastern Health most, all four regional health authorities are affected. Many elective appointments and even cancer treatments are rescheduled.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Western Health said many elective procedures and appointments, including surgery, blood collection, endoscopy, medical imaging, outpatient EKG, and fracture clinics, would not take place on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Chemotherapy appointments at Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital and Dr Charles L. LeGrow Health Center will be on Wednesday, but chemotherapy appointments at Western Memorial Regional Hospital will not.

Patients are currently being reassigned based on the emergency, Haggie said.

During Question Period, Opposition Leader David Brazil called on the government to declare a provincial state of emergency, but Coady said there were no plans to do so.

“At the moment, I don’t see this as an emergency,” she said.

Opposition calls for transparency

Speaking to reporters, Brazil said it understood the need for security, but wanted the government to be more transparent about the cause of the system failure, the source of the problems and the government’s response.

“What we’re asking is show us your plan, show us your plan to get people [back to] have access to health care, ”he said.

NDP MP Jordan Brown said he wanted more clarity and assurances from the government on the protection of information.

“We’d like to know what’s going on with our data. Who’s got it? Who’s on our doorstep? And is the rest of our data at risk? That’s what we need to know.”

NDP MP Jordan Brown, left, and PC opposition leader David Brazil, right, have both called for more transparency from the government regarding the disruption to the province’s healthcare system. (Ted Dillon / CBC)

Prime Minister Andrew Furey was not present to answer questions about the situation as he is currently in Glasgow as a member of the Canadian delegation to the COP26 summit.

Brazil called on the prime minister to end his participation and return to the province. Coady countered that Furey was “fully engaged, fully briefed” on the situation.

Coady said the government is focused on restoring health care operations and cannot comment further on the situation as it is a “security issue.”

During question period, Digital Government and Service NL Minister Sarah Stoodley did not say when an external audit of the government’s IT infrastructure was last carried out. She also wouldn’t say how much the government has spent on cybersecurity over the past five years, claiming instead that the government is spending money on a “range” of tools.

Stoodley said other government online services were being monitored and no anomalies were found.

Investigation in progress

The RCMP said they have launched a criminal investigation into what happened to cripple the system, using specialized forces experienced in cyber threats.

Service provider Bell Aliant declined an interview, but in an emailed statement, a spokesperson said the company was working with the Department of Health to fix the system.

The spokesperson said the problem is isolated in the Department of Health and does not affect other Bell Aliant customers.

“Our immediate goal is to restore services as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

The company said the investigation is ongoing and could not provide additional information. No further information on the investigation was provided by the police.

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