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Canadian laboratory advised to pay ransomware demand despite industry best practice

LifeLabs said it successfully retrieved 85,000 stolen lab results after negotiating with the hackers

A Canadian laboratory has agreed to pay hackers in order to retrieve some 85,000 stolen data records after being advised to do so by cyber security experts.

LifeLabs, a provider of clinical laboratory services, said that information on approximately 15 million customers was also potentially accessed.

The company was breached in October when an unnamed party infiltrated the lab's computer systems. In an open letter, the company said that it involved customer names, addresses, emails, logins, passwords and health card numbers.

There were also 85,000 test results stolen in the breach which impact customers located in Ontario from 2016, or earlier, according to the firm.

LifeLabs CEO Charles Brown said that it had taken several steps to protect the stolen information, with one of those being "retrieving the data by making a payment". It did this on the advice of "experts familiar with cyber-attacks" and after negotiations with the hackers.

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There isn't much detail as to how the perpetrators gained access to the lab's systems but it does further highlight how prolific ransomware has become. The practice of paying hackers has been discouraged by many in the industry as it not only helps to directly fund a criminal enterprise but there is no guarantee that data will be returned after payment.

It was even revealed recently that 40% of security professionals believe that the handing over of funds to hackers should be criminalised, according to an AT&T security study.

There was also a question of whether LifeLabs should face regulatory action, as it only informed British Columbia of the breach on 28 October. However, discussing why the information has only just come to light, Health Minister Adrian Dix told CBC that there was a concern about a secondary attack.

"Naturally, all of us would have wanted immediately for people to be informed, as quickly as possible," he said. "The only reason there was a delay was to ensure that information that hadn't been compromised wouldn't be compromised and that information that could be protected would be protected."

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