Prosecutor backs down: hospital hackers aren’t responsible for deaths

It was apparently a unique case to date: a patient died in Germany last September while ransomware interrupted the IT of the emergency care in the Düsseldorf University Hospital.

Police launched a negligent homicide investigation and said the hacker or hackers could be held responsible for the death. The case attracted worldwide attention because it was the first in which law enforcement officers declared a cyber attack the cause of a death.

After a few weeks of investigation, however, it turned out that the patient was in such poor condition that she would have died without the hacker attack on the clinic. “The delay had no relevance for the final result,” said Markus Hartmann, Chief Public Prosecutor in Cologne, opposite “Wired”. “The medical condition was the only cause of death, completely independent of the cyber attack.”

The claim that hackers were responsible for the patient’s death was dropped – because no emergency treatment was possible in Düsseldorf, she had to be taken to a more distant hospital. But the investigation into the case continues. Like many cybersecurity experts, Hartmann believes that it is only a matter of time before an attack on hospitals really causes such a tragedy.

More from Technology Review

More from Technology Review

That October met one Wave of ransomware attacks on hospitals in the US, just as coronavirus cases were starting to skyrocket again. There were no deaths from the attacks, but the hackers managed to make money from them. So there are incentives for more attacks of this type as coronavirus infections continue to rise rapidly across the western world.

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