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Prairie St. John's works to get back online after parent company suffers cyber attack

Prairie St. John's hospital in Fargo.

The pandemic focused new attention on health care, some positive, some unwanted.

WDAY spoke with cyber security expert UND Professor Naima Kaabouch who says cyber attacks against hospitals are on the rise.

"This outbreak has encouraged more attacks of all kinds," she said.

A suspected ransomware attack hit Prairie St. John's parent company, Universal Health Services early Sunday morning.


"It's really hard when you add almost a full capacity of 110 beds and have this all go on - it's been remarkable how smoothly it's gone," said Jeffrey Herman, CEO of Prairie St. John's.

For Prairie St John's, everything from treatment plans to drug administration was online.

Dr. Kaabouch says in a ramsomware attack, hackers usually don't ask for a lot of money and 65% of companies pay the ransom.

"Healthcare is about life and death so they want them to pay very fast and move on," she said.

She says cyberattacks like these end up costing companies $5 to 10 billion per year.

Ransomware attackers use fishing tactics to try and get into a system, like asking you to click on links in an email.

Once they are in, they encrypt all the files. If the company doesn't pay the ransom, they don't get the data back.


But Prairie St John's CEO Jeffery Herman says says, the hospital has strong procedures in place. Its systems also go down periodically for upgrades or maintenance, so the staff knows what to do.

"It's certainly been a lot to ask of our staff, and it has been challenging. But the important part is that we keep reassuring everyone that there hasn't been a breach," he said.

So patient and staff data stays private, and care continues as normal.

Prairie St. John's hopes to be fully back online tomorrow.

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