Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center recently made headlines when cyber-extortionists prevented access to all electronic patient files for 10 days. Reports of the hackers demands ranged from $3.4 million dollars to 3.4 million bitcoin (over $1.4 billion). In the end, a $17,000 ransom unlocked the files. One has to wonder, however, what type of threat to patient well-being persisted during the intervening week and a half due to this historic disruption of a business charged with keeping us healthy, and, in some cases, alive.
A few days ago, the New York Times ran an article by Fred Kaplan about another Hollywood hack – the one in the 1983 film “War Games,” where Matthew Broderick hacked into the United States Military’s defense command system. The article reports that President Ronald Reagan saw the movie, and it prompted him to pose a question to his highest-ranking advisors: “Could this really happen?”
After General John Vessey, Jr. reported back, “the problem is actually much worse than you think,” Reagan issued the first official U.S. policy statement on cybersecurity…in 1984. Though Congress overrode the directive due to privacy concerns (30 years ago, they didn’t want the NSA spying on Americans…now…), research leading to the directive revealed that hacking was a known threat as far back as the 1960’s.
Can I tie these two famous Hollywood hacks together?
In the 1980’s, a fictional cyber-threat to millions of Americans caused the President to address what had been a known threat for two decades. A week ago, the health, and possibly lives, of hundreds of Americans was actually threatened by cybercrime (Hollywood Presbyterian has over 400 beds). This true story, and too many others like it, should spur government action beyond the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 (I described some of the criticism of that Act here). Both of these Hollywood hacks illustrate the very real threat that cybercrime poses to American lives. That threat needs very real, and very timely, responses from the other outfit charged with protecting our lives – our government.