A computer worm infected the entire network at a Georgia hospital. Image: Flickr /etee / CC-BY

Networked hospitals are supposed to be the health care of the future, instantly connected to information and results. One hospital in Georgia, however, discovered some of the pitfalls when a computer worm shut down the entire facility.

Worm infects a hospital

A Georgia hospital found itself battling an infection that the IT department had to cure a few days ago. Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, Ga., discovered an outbreak of a computer virus or worm. The virus affected the function of the computers but did not garner any patient information or medical results. The hospital spokesperson reported to local media:

The malware affected connectivity only and did not compromise medical records or affect patient care in any way, shape or form.

Worm versus virus

The hospital spokesperson has reported that the computer bug that brought down the internal network was a virus. Many computer security experts, however, believe that the bug was likely a worm. The difference between a worm and a virus may seem minimal, but it is important. A computer virus usually requires some kind of user interaction – opening a file, clicking a button or otherwise activating the infection. A worm, on the other hand, “crawls” through computer networks and infects each computer without user interaction. This means the virus could have been transmitted through an infected computer on the network or a USB stick plugged into a hospital computer.

Hospital forced to delay care

Gwinnett Medical Center in Georgia was forced to divert ambulances and all non-emergency care to other hospitals in the area. This is because standard protocol when a computer virus or worm hits computer networks, the network must be shut down computer-by-computer until the infection is isolated and eliminated. This particular computer worm affected the function of everything from CAT scans to pharmacy distributions. Security experts are still studying the worm, trying to identify how the infection entered the hospital and was spread.


Security Info Watch: http://www.securityinfowatch.com/node/1323545
ComputerWorld: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9222656/Hospital_turns_away_patients_after_virus_disrupts_network?taxonomyId=17
MSNBC: http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/14/9446749-computer-worm-forces-hospitals-to-turn-away-patients

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