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By Chulumanco Mahamba

Digital Night Supervisor

National Health Lab hit by cyber attack, systems down

Patient data remains safe, but system repairs will take time, says CEO Mlisana.

The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) experienced an information technology security breach on Saturday morning, which compromised its systems and infrastructure.

Investigations suggest that ransomware was used to target specific points in the NHLS IT systems, rendering them inaccessible and preventing communication from and to users of the Laboratory Information System (LIS) and other databases, according to NHLS CEO Prof Koleka Mlisana.

Patient data safety

“Preliminary investigation suggests that our Enterprise Resource Planning (Oracle) environment, Laboratory Information System (LIS) (TrakCare) database, and our CDW are not affected; therefore, no patient data has been lost or compromised. All patient data is safe,” Mlisana said.

Systems inaccessible

Until the environment’s integrity is secured and restored, all NHLS systems are therefore inaccessible from the inside as well as the outside, including to and from healthcare facilities.

The NHLS added that all users will be informed of how much the interrupted information technology systems are used by the NHLS networked laboratory system.

“It has established that sections of our system have been deleted, including in our backup server, and this will require rebuilding the affected parts,” Mlisana said.

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“Unfortunately, this will take time, and investigations thus far have not advanced enough for us to give a timeframe towards the restoration of our systems and full service,” said Mlisana.

Back to the telephone as cyberattacks continue

The NHLS confirmed that the cyberattacks continued, but it was able to block them because of the additional layer of security that was built to prevent further damage. The systems were, however, shut down to enable the NHLS to repair the damage.

In response to the security breach, the NHLS dispatched its Incident Response Team, which included both external and internal cybersecurity specialists.

“It must be emphasised that the NHLS’ responsibility is to ensure business continuity and quality service delivery. Currently, all our laboratories are fully functional, receiving and processing clinical samples,” Mlisana said.

“Under normal circumstances, the laboratory reports are automatically generated and sent to clinicians or made available on Web View; this incident has disabled that functionality. However, all urgent results are communicated telephonically to requesting clinicians.”

The NHLS added that it is working around the clock to address this incident and ensure the continuity of its services.

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