Manslaughter probe as patient dies after Düsseldorf hospital hacking attack

German prosecutors said Friday they were launching an investigation into involuntary manslaughter after a patient died in the aftermath of a hacking attack on a hospital.

Manslaughter probe as patient dies after Düsseldorf hospital hacking attack
Archive photo shows Düsseldorf University Hospital. Photo: DPA

If charges are brought, it would be a rare case of hacking with fatal consequences.

Düsseldorf University Hospital's IT systems were knocked offline in the attack last Thursday, meaning it became disconnected from the ambulance network.

A critically ill woman was therefore admitted to a hospital further away in Wuppertal and died shortly afterwards, the Düsseldorf hospital revealed this week.

Because of the longer distance that the ambulance had to travel, there was an hour's delay before medical staff were only able to treat her.

Prosecutors in Cologne have taken over the investigation and are now probing unknown suspects on suspicion of manslaughter, prosecutor Christoph Hebbecker said Friday.

“We are now investigating over involuntary manslaughter, computer sabotage and attempted blackmail,” he told AFP.

He added that investigations are in particular looking into “whether there is a criminal connection between the hacking and the death of this person”.

The hackers exploited a “weakness in an application” to encrypt several servers, the hospital said Thursday, but there was no evidence that “data had been irretrievably destroyed”.

Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen, science and culture minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said Thursday there was evidence to suggest the attack had been aimed at Düsseldorf's Heinrich Heine University (HHU).

Pfeiffer-Poensgen said a threatening letter had been found on a HHU server.

According to the hospital, however, there was no concrete ransom demand.

Access to the data encrypted during the attack has now been restored and systems are being gradually brought back into operation.

Germany has seen several hacker attacks on research and higher education institutions in recent months, including the University of Giessen, the University of Cologne and the Ruhr University Bochum.

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How the chatty robot Franzi is cheering up German patients

Cleaning robot Franzi makes sure floors are spotless at the Munich hospital where she works, and has taken on a new role during the pandemic: cheering up patients and staff.

How the chatty robot Franzi is cheering up German patients
Franzi at the Munich hospital where she works. Photo: AFP/Christof Stache

“Can you move out the way, please? I need to clean,” trills the robot in German when people block her pre-programmed cleaning route.

“You need to move! I really want to clean!” she squeaks at those who still don't get out of the way. And if that doesn't work, digital tears begin to stream from her LED-light eyes.

“Visitors are not allowed in the pandemic, so Franzi entertains the patients a bit,” says Constance Rettler of Dr. Rettler, the company in charge of cleaning the Neuperlach hospital that provided the robot.

READ ALSO: Small talk with Luna: German robots increasingly in contact with customers

Three times a day, Franzi bustles through the clinic's entrance hall, her feet automatically mopping the floors. Amused patients take photos of her, and some even stop to chat to the metre-high robot.

“Ah, there you are my friend,” cries one elderly lady with a drip on her arm upon catching sight of Franzi.

“One of our recent patients came down three times a day to talk to her,” smiles Tanja Zacherl, who oversees hospital maintenance.

Extra employee

Created by a company in Singapore, Franzi was originally named Ella and spoke English before coming to Munich early this year.

Yet her German is perfect as she tells her interviewers that she “never wants to grow up” and that cleaning is her passion.

When prompted, she can also sing classic German pop songs and even rap.

Franzi on the move. Photo: AFP/Christof Stache

Rettler is adamant that the robot is not taking jobs away from real human beings but instead is supposed to “support” her flesh-and-blood colleagues, who have become harder to come by during the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the pandemic, there is lots of extra disinfecting work to be done in hospitals,” says Rettler.

“While Franzi is cleaning the floors, our employees can concentrate on doing that.”

A robot has its limits however. It is still unable to get into tight
corners, and if it hits an obstacle, it bursts into tears and remains stuck until rescued by a human.

Yet Franzi also has a reason to be cheerful. After a test phase of several weeks, she appears to have settled in at the Neuperlach hospital.

Rettler's company has therefore decided to keep her there permanently rather than deploy her elsewhere.

READ ALSO: How robots could shape Germany's political future