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Ransomware attack disrupts Irish health services | Ireland

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Ireland’s state health services provider has shut all its IT systems and cancelled some medical appointments after what it described as a “significant ransomware attack” overnight caused widespread disruption.

Paul Reid, the Health Service Executive chief executive, told RTÉ there had been a “human-operated” attempt to access data stored on central servers for a presumed ransom. “There has been no ransom demand at this stage. The key thing is to contain the issue. We are in the containment phase.”

Reid said the HSE was working with police, the defence forces and third-party cybersecurity experts to respond to what he termed an “internationally operated criminal operation”. He apologised to patients and the public for the disruption.

The attack has affected national and local systems that provide core services, but not Covid-19 vaccinations or ambulance services.

Quick Guide

What is ransomware?

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Ransomware is the most common form of criminal malware currently in use. Targets are commonly infected through malicious emails, which may trick them into downloading and running the software, or through exploiting vulnerabilities in other software such as Adobe Flash. When the ransomware program is activated, it encrypts the user’s hard drive with a single use encryption key, before flashing up a message asking for ransom, typically in the form of a payment in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Usually, although not always, paying the ransom really does restore access to the encrypted files, which means that many businesses and organisations have found themselves funding the criminal outfits that launch ransomware attacks. Even organisations that regularly back up their data have been known to pay the ransom, since the time required to fully restore a large and complicated network from a back-up can be many days, during which no business can be done.

WannaCry, one of the most famous pieces of ransomware, managed to freeze much of the NHS in May 2017. The malware made use of a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spread automatically between computers, allowing it to rapidly traverse the globe. The attack was launched by a cybercrime group dubbed Lazarus by researchers, which is believed to be a state-backed outfit run by the North Korean government.

Most ransomware attacks are very different from WannaCry, involving highly targeted infections of big targets who are likely to pay a high ransom to receive their data back in good time.

Alex Hern

Several hospitals cancelled outpatient visits or urged patients with appointments not to attend. The Rotunda, a Dublin maternity hospital, said it was experiencing a “critical emergency” and cancelled all outpatients visits except for women who were more than 35 weeks pregnant.

The oncology department at Cork university hospital was reportedly paralysed. The child and family agency Tusla said its IT systems, including email, internal systems and the portal through which child protection referrals are made, were not working.

Earlier this week hackers crippled the Colonial petrochemical pipeline that stretches from Texas to New York, causing fuel shortages and states of emergency to be declared in four states. The company reportedly paid a $5m ransom fee. A group of cybercriminals called Darkside claimed responsibility for the attack.

Fergal Malone, the master of the Rotunda, said the hospital discovered unusual activity in its IT systems at about 2am and later detected what appeared to be a ransomware virus. “We use a common system throughout the HSE in terms of registering patients and it seems that must have been the entry point or source,” he told RTÉ. “It means we have had to shut down all our computer systems.”

All patients were safe and the hospital had contingency plans to operate using a paper-based system, he said. “We have systems in place to revert back to old-fashioned record-keeping.” Lifesaving equipment was not affected. “Patients will come in in labour over the weekend and we will be well able to look after them.”



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Thanks, Sir Clive Sinclair, from Reg readers whose careers you created and lives you shaped • The Register

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Sir Clive Sinclair’s contributions to computing and business are well known, and we’ve done our best to celebrate his life in our obituary of the electronics pioneer, who passed last week aged 81.

To mark his life we felt it appropriate to also consider his impact on Reg readers.

Like many others, your correspondent’s first computer was a ZX Spectrum. The machine led to my presence in these pages, because I eventually joined the Australian ZX Users’ Association (AZUA), which published its own magazine and invited contributions.

A die was cast.

I tracked down AZUA co-founder David Vernon who told us, by email: “We all loved Clive. We loved his foresight, his eccentricity and his desire to bring computing to the masses.”

Referring to the ZX80 and ZX81, Vernon added: “But we found him frustrating in equal measure. Why to save a few pounds did he give us such a crappy touch keyboard? Why not give us 4K of RAM and not 1K?”

“But even these irritations had a silver lining. They showed us that we didn’t have to put up with whatever a manufacturer gave us but we could improve on it. And this is perhaps Clive’s legacy to my generation — we could do stuff that we never imagined. Clive gave us confidence that we could do clever stuff too. And we did.”

“Honestly, it’s thanks to Clive that I now run my own publishing business. Without my early experience of writing and publishing computer programs and help pages I’d not be doing what I do today.”

Splash Screen for classic adventure game The Hobbit

Author of ’80s classic The Hobbit didn’t know game was a hit

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Similar stories poured in from around the world as comments on our appreciation of the great man’s life.

“For me it was the ZX 48K,” wrote commenter Mozzie.

“It got upgraded with a Saga 1, had an astonishing Saisho cassette player that never to failed to load anything except LoTR. Chuckie Egg, Dizzy, Wriggler, Harrier Attack, Target Renegade and even HiSoft Pascal… thanks Clive for giving me the means to feed my family the last 16 years.”

“So, so many aspects of my life are directly or only slightly indirectly related to my love for coding and electronics and tech in general, and that all stems back to those heady days of the early 80s, sat in my bedroom in front of my Speccy,” wrote another forum member, ChrisC.

Linus Torvalds was a Sinclair user: Among those influenced by Sir Clive was Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, who worked on a Sinclair QL before he turned to his most famous work. From 00:30 in the video below, he reminisces about his time using the QL.

Youtube Video

A commenter named Allwallgbr shared his experience working for Sir Clive for two years in the 1970s and described the time as “amazing hard working, fun packed years servicing audio products and demonstrating at Hi-Fi exhibitions.

“I enjoyed the work and the buzz of the company so much, no other employer came close in my entire working life.”

Readers also remembered Sir Clive as possessing a strange charisma.

“An absolute genius with just the right amount of barminess to be a proper British boffin,” opined a commenter with the handle John Brown (no body). “He even had the proper boffin’s bald patch and glasses.”

Others shared their experiences putting Sinclair kit to work.

“I wrote a text-graphic based D&D game, and fed in the entire D&D stats to help automate games,” wrote a Reg forums member named Danny 2.

Next, he tackled something harder. “I tried and failed to write a conversation simulator to pass the Turing test: more difficult than I expected.”

“I think I freaked my mum out when she heard noises at 6am. It was just my seven-year-old self who was desperate to find out whether SIN and COS would let me PLOT a circle on my birthday present ZX81,” wrote another commenter, who goes by the strangely apt handle 0x80004005. (We’re guessing it’s a Windows error code.)

An email ad for the Telecom Australia Computerphone

Sinclair’s FORGOTTEN Australia-only micro revealed!

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Sir Clive’s passing has hit some of you hard.

“I’m currently crying like a baby here. This has hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. This marks the end of the line for the largest chunk of my formative years, and possibly the greatest influence in my entering the career I have,” wrote commenter Stumpy.

“RIP to a massively flawed genius,” our reader added. “A man with ideas often far ahead of their time. I’ll be setting a glass of decent malt aside for you tonight.”

A few readers offered some Sinclair BASIC as tribute:

GOTO Valhalla, wrote Dr. G. Freeman

10 PRINT "RIP Clive you'll be missed"
20 GOTO 10

…came in from a netizen named Dazzler.

The legacy lives on: One measure of Sir Clive’s contribution was that emulators for his computers remain available to this day, even if some homages such as the Spectrum Vega+ went awry.

Classic games developed for the ZX Spectrum remain available in many forms, not just as image files for emulators. Manic Miner is now an app, as is Lords Of Midnight. Some other Spectrum classics have even been ported to Microsoft’s XBOX.

One of the folks we reached out to for a Sinclair memory was Shane Muller, an Australian tech entrepreneur who in 2019 threw a very good party to celebrate his thirty years in the tech business. At that event he brandished the ZX81 that started it all.

Shane’s response to news of Sir Clive’s death was to write him a letter:

Vale, Sir Clive. ®

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Alphabet’s high-speed internet project Taara is making waves in Africa

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Taara’s wireless optical technology was able to beam nearly 700TB of data in 20 days across the Congo River.

Alphabet’s internet balloon project Loon may be a closed chapter, but the company is finding new ways to use some of this technology to bring high-speed internet to remote and underserved areas.

Project Taara is Alphabet’s attempt to harness wireless optical tech to make fast internet accessible and affordable. In a blog post yesterday (16 September), the project’s director of engineering, Baris Erkmen, said that its wireless optical communications links are now beaming light-speed connectivity across the Congo River.

“I’m delighted to share that working with Liquid Intelligent Technologies, we recently helped bridge a particularly stubborn connectivity gap between Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he wrote.

Brazzaville and Kinshasa are only 4.8km apart, but because of the speed and depth of the Congo River, it wasn’t possible to establish fibre connection between the two cities. Instead, cables have to travel more than 400km to loop around the river.

Erkmen said that after installing links on both sides of the river, Taara’s technology was able to beam across nearly 700TB of data in 20 days with almost 100pc availability. While the connectivity won’t always be reliable in all weather conditions, he said he was confident it will “play a key role in bringing faster, more affordable connectivity” to the 17m people living in the two cities.

“Being able to deliver high-speed internet (up to 20Gbps) most of the time is a vastly better option than having millions of people miss out on the benefits of connectivity because the economics of laying hundreds of kilometres of cable in the ground simply don’t stack up.”

Project Taara’s predecessor Loon brought helium balloon-based internet to Kenya and delivered communications services to Puerto Rico and Peru following natural disasters in those countries.

Like Project Taara, it was part of Alphabet’s X research division that invests in ambitious but costly projects. However, Loon was shut down in January because it was unable to make a business case for the project and its path to commercial viability was “much longer and riskier than hoped”, according to X lab head Astro Teller.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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Deep impact: the underwater photographers bringing the ocean’s silent struggle to life | Photography

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In July, off the Turkish port city of Bodrum, Kerim Sabuncuoğlu stepped from the edge of a boat into the azure Aegean Sea and began to descend. A scuba diver with more than 30 years’ experience, he took up underwater photography in 2002 and has since devoted considerable amounts of time and money to his “out-of-control hobby” – capturing the wonders of the ocean on camera so that “the less fortunate people above” can also marvel at them.

Sabuncuoğlu has travelled the world, photographing marine life in Palau, Cuba and the Galápagos islands and winning several awards for his work. Closer to home in Bodrum, he was embarking on a standard dive with a group of friends, equipped with a Nikon D800 camera. The camera had an 85mm micro Nikkor lens and was clad in Nexus underwater housing, with a single Backscatter snoot to train light on the subject.

A lizardfish attempts to eat a cigarette end.
A lizardfish attempts to eat a cigarette end. ‘This image illustrates the environmental issue of people carelessly disposing of trash and the harm it does to wildlife,’ says photographer Steven Kovacs. Photograph: Steven Kovacs

Soon after reaching the sandy bottom and making a right turn towards a cluster of rocks, he spotted a broken fishing line on the sea floor. A grouper was caught on one of the hooks, still alive, so he took it to the surface, removed the hook and set it free.

“I went back to see what else was there, with the pliers,” says Sabuncuoğlu from his home in Istanbul, where he runs an event management company, “and that’s when I found this poor animal: a moray eel. Its favourite food is octopus, and of course when it found the arm of an octopus on the floor, it took a great bite.” A hook concealed in the octopus arm went straight through the moray’s jaw. It spun its body frantically to free itself, but succeeded only in entangling itself in the fishing line. Eventually the eel suffocated and died.

A female paper nautilus drifts along on a piece of rubbish, Anilao, the Philippines.
A female paper nautilus drifts along on a piece of rubbish, Anilao, the Philippines. Photographer Steven Kovacs notes that they normally hitch a ride on jellyfish for protection and to preserve energy. Photograph: Steven Kovacs

Sabuncuoğlu had witnessed the result of what’s known as ghost fishing. “When a fisherman leaves his equipment under the water, like a fishing net or line, it keeps on killing fish for many years to come,” he explains. “If I had left this moray eel, some other fish would have eaten the hook, and died as well.”

It’s a worldwide problem. Ghost fishing gear accounts for around an estimated 10% of all marine litter. On the west coast of the US, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported an average of 11 large whales entangled in ghost nets every year between 2000 and 2012. The number of smaller fish and sea life caught annually in nets and pots and on discarded hooks is impossible to estimate, but Sabuncuoğlu puts it in the millions. It is also dangerous for divers, he adds, “because you can get tangled like the moray eel under the water”.

Jason Gulley’s photograph of a dead manatee floating in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida.
Jason Gulley’s photograph of a dead manatee floating in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida. Pollution is destroying seagrass, one of the mammals’ food sources, causing record numbers of deaths. Photograph: Jason Gulley

Sabuncuoğlu took 60 or so shots of the eel, but it was only afterwards, as he was editing the images on his computer, that he felt a pang of sadness at how it had died. “You realise it was helpless there,” he says. Everyone he showed the image to reacted in the same way: “They went, ‘Eeeeee, ai ai ai!’” and shuddered. When he submitted it to this year’s Ocean photography awards, under the title Silent Scream, it was shortlisted in the conservation category.

The National Geographic photographer and conservationist Cristina Mittermaier was among the judges who picked Sabuncuoğlu as the ocean conservation photographer of the year. “It’s a fantastic image,” she tells me. “Underwater wildlife communicate in a very different way to terrestrial wildlife, and they don’t have the same facial expressions that an animal like a grizzly bear or a wolf might have. Therefore, making images that create an emotional connection with humans, when you’re photographing fish, is really hard. In this image, the photographer was able to capture a dramatic moment, and the eel actually has a facial expression that conveys emotion. It caught me as soon as I saw it.”

Anchovy fishing boats off Phú Yên Province, Vietnam.
Anchovy fishing boats off Phú Yên Province, Vietnam. The small fish are harvested to make sauce but, as photographer Thien Nguyen Ngoc says, that leaves their marine predators without food. Photograph: Thien Nguyen Ngoc

It’s not just the inscrutability of sea creatures that makes it difficult to get humans emotionally involved. Images of environmental devastation can be off-putting too. “You really need to balance the storytelling with beautiful photography,” says Mittermaier, who co-founded the conservation network SeaLegacy, “and I think this image does that really well. When something outstanding comes along that has the power to make people stop, even for just a second, and internalise what they’re looking at, that’s when we start moving the needle.”

It helps that the technology around underwater photography is improving fast, allowing for more vivid shots and illuminating parts of the ocean that were previously obscure. Sabuncuoğlu mentions blackwater photography, which entails diving into deep ocean at night to photograph larval fish and invertebrates as they rise to the surface.

A seahorse that has anchored itself to a face mask, Halkidiki peninsula, Greece.
A seahorse that has anchored itself to a face mask, Halkidiki peninsula, Greece. Photographer Nicholas Samaras dives regularly in the area and says Covid waste is the biggest recent change. Photograph: Nicholas Samaras

“It’s only in the past 10 years that the technology has advanced enough for us to be able to take our cameras deeper than 30 metres,” says Mittermaier. “And the sensors now available are allowing us to see in the inky depths of the ocean things that we could not capture just five years ago. So it’s advancing very quickly, and it’s becoming more affordable. And as more and more photographers take to the ocean to capture images, we’re slowly building an army of underwater storytellers reporting from the furthest corners of the Earth.”

Sabuncuoğlu likens the experience of exploring the ocean to space travel. “If you don’t have the technology or the funds to go to another planet, just gear up and jump into the water,” he says. “That’s another planet.” Reporting back from that other planet, and showing the extraordinary profusion of life there, is “the most wonderful thing I can ever do in my lifetime,” he says. “I hope I will do it for many years to come, and I hope I can teach more people how to do it. Because if we don’t show the beauties of the underwater, nobody will realise what’s down there, and if you don’t realise it, you don’t protect it. It’s that simple.”

A gull caught up and drowned in ghost fishing line in Norway’s Saltstraumen strait, photographed by Galice Hoarau.
A gull caught up and drowned in ghost fishing line in Norway’s Saltstraumen strait, photographed by Galice Hoarau. ‘These are deadly traps for wildllife, especially seabirds,’ he says. Photograph: Galice Hoarau

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