A York veterinary practice was hit with a ransomware attack this week and lost its patient records after the owner refused to pay the $80,000 ransom.

Bill Walak, who owns York Animal Hospital with his wife, Barbara Walak, said he discovered the attack when he arrived at the practice Tuesday morning. He said the practice’s computers were locked up and the screen on one carried a ransom note demanding $80,000 in bitcoin for his files to be restored.

Walak said he contacted York police, who suggested he get in touch with an IT professional for help. He said he doesn’t have the money to pay the ransom and assumed there would be no guarantee the files would be restored even if he did pay.

“With all the stress of the last week, if I could have paid it, I probably would,” he said.

With the help of an IT professional from New Hampshire, Walak said, he was able to load a 2017 version of patient records on the computer system and has been trying to update it. He’s asked his more than 6,000 clients to email him with any records they have of their pets’ visits and other details, such as medication prescribed and vaccination dates, to try to bring his database up to date, but he suspects it will be years before he’s able to restore everything.

His financial records were not accessed, Walak said, so he and his clients don’t need to worry, for now at least, about their personnel data being targeted by hackers.

Walak said the ransomware attack seems to have originated in Russia, the source of most ransomware attacks, based on information in the ransom demand, and it’s unlikely the perpetrators will ever be caught.

Walak said he doesn’t know why his computers were targeted, but he’s heard that other users of some of the software that he uses have been hit with ransomware attacks, so he assumes that was the reason. He also said he is rebuilding the system and adding security features, but knows most computers are vulnerable to attack. Most experts say making regular backups of data is the best way to mitigate a ransomware attack.

Walak, a native of western Massachusetts, and his wife came to Maine about 12 years ago and worked for other veterinary clinics before the York Animal Hospital went up for sale about five years ago. He said they have built the clientele up from about 1,100 to more than 6,000 patients.

“Up to this point, it’s been amazing,” he said.

Barbara Walak is taking some time off to care for their newborn, he said, and they have hired another vet to work in the animal hospital with them.

Walak said he had to close his clinic early Friday to deal with the computer problems and likely will spend the weekend focusing on that when he would rather be treating his clients’ animals.


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