Health chaos: blame a stick

A USB data stick inserted into a computer at a Waikato Hospital carpark booth is being blamed for disabling the entire Waikato District Health Board computer network in December.

Wilson Parking northern general manager Stephan Wuffli confirmed the source of the destructive Conficker virus yesterday despite attempts by the Waikato DHB to withhold the information until "correct procedures had been followed".

"Our understanding is that the virus most probably originated via a USB (universal serial bus) stick that was inserted into a computer in the carpark booth," Mr Wuffli said.

The virus brought to a standstill the DHB's 3000- strong computer network across the Waikato for at least three days, causing mayhem for 5600 staff and their patients.

The carpark booth was linked to the DHB network, according to Mr Wuffli, who said the booth housed both carpark and DHB computers.

"The virus could have originated from either type of computer as the ability to access this booth is held by both Wilson Parking and DHB administration staff," he said.

Waikato University IT expert Dougal Mair this morning said USB devices were a logical way for a virus such as Conficker to infect an entire network.

"We have had pockets of the virus here at the university but we have been able to jump on it very quickly and isolate the segment of network it has attacked," the information, communications and technology infrastructure manager said.

Mr Mair said audits should have identified the computer in the parking booth the USB stick was inserted in.

Further details contained in an Audit New Zealand investigation and an internal DHB report into the cause remain under wraps as the DHB works through its "processes", despite pressure from board members, including Gordon Chesterman, to make the information public.

"The timing of this concerns me in that we need to show transparency to staff and the public, so I assume you have timeframes in mind to make this information available – say within the next two weeks?" Mr Chesterman asked at yesterday's board meeting.

"I think two weeks may be an aggressive timeframe given what I have seen in the report," chief executive Craig Climo said.

Board member Ted Armstrong said he had "strong concerns" about withholding information too long.

"This was described as a major incident by the auditor-general's office. The more it's delayed the more people will be asking what are we covering up – when we have nothing to cover up," he said.

DHB chief information officer Alan Grainer said an internal report had also been completed and that a panel would now look at those findings along with the Audit NZ report before making the information available to both hospital staff and the public.

Mr Grainer assured the board that the network was restored to full capacity within a few days of the incident.

Board chairman Graeme Milne said he had spoken to Health Minister Tony Ryall about the Audit NZ report.

Waikato Times