Crypto-hackers are holding the Costa Rican healthcare system to ransom for $5B in bitcoin

A grenade made of keyboard keycaps.
(Image credit: Peter Dazeley)

Tuesday, the Costa Rican healthcare system became the target of hackers known as 'Hive' who, after encrypting the Social Security agency's servers have demanded that it pays "$5,000,000 in bitcoin" to decrypt them again. 

As a precaution, the agency shut down its systems, leaving thousands of people needing medical attention in the dirt, thanks to the greed of these malevolent hackers. As if hospitals didn't have enough virus to deal with already right now. 

What a world we live in.

Tech Xplore (opens in new tab), which brought the mess to our attention, also stresses that there's been no way for them to update their COVID-19 infection numbers, even as a wave of infection sweeps across the country.

The latest attack, which has seen at least 30 of its 1,500 servers infected with ransomeware, follows on from another severe breach of security back in April which had Costa Rica declaring a national emergency (opens in new tab). It has been suggested that attack was carried out by a Russian-speaking group known as Conti.

Initially considered separate entities, it is now being thought that maybe Hive and Conti are linked in some way. Ransomware analyst, Britt Callow, cited in the Tech Xplore report, believes "at a minimum, it would seem that somebody who works with Conti is also working with Hive." 

This is likely since "it's been increasingly challenging for [Conti] to collect payments since declaring their support for Russia and threatening attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure."

Meanwhile, the people of Costa Rica are back to working with pen and paper in hospitals, meaning it takes longer to get people through the system. 

The report also mentions Roger González, a retired publicist in San Jose, who says he was meant to have a scheduled electrocardiogram on Tuesday, but now has to wait until the systems come back online. Everything was being written on paper, he noticed, and was told the doctor would conduct his appointment using his physical medical file, rather than the computer as "they do not want to turn them on allowing the virus to spread."

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We've become so reliant on computers to file and run businesses that it's a wonder they even had paper documents lying around. Maybe they're just violently scribbling everything on swathes of that blue medical paper roll.

Anyway, that's just the mild end of anecdotes coming from the recent attack. I'd hate to imagine how it might affect others needing medical attention in more life threatening situations. 

Let's just hope the people responsible grow a conscience and backtrack on their demands. Maybe they should take a page out of Mr. White Hat's book—the dude who got a job after stealing $600 million from Poly Network, then returning it (opens in new tab)

Katie Wickens
Hardware Writer

Screw sports, Katie would rather watch Intel, AMD and Nvidia go at it. Having been obsessed with computers and graphics for three long decades, she took Game Art and Design up to Masters level at uni, and has been demystifying tech and science—rather sarcastically—for two years since. She can be found admiring AI advancements, scrambling for scintillating Raspberry Pi projects, preaching cybersecurity awareness, sighing over semiconductors, and gawping at the latest GPU upgrades. She's been heading the PCG Steam Deck content hike, while waiting patiently for her chance to upload her consciousness into the cloud.