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DEATH

German experts see Russian link in deadly hospital cyber attack

German authorities probing a cyber attack on a hospital's IT system that led to a fatal delay in treatment for a critically ill woman believe the software used can be traced back to Russian hackers.

German experts see Russian link in deadly hospital cyber attack
Archive photo shows Düsseldorf University Hospital. Photo: DPA

In an update to lawmakers published on Tuesday, prosecutors wrote that hackers used malware known as “Doppelpaymer” to disable computers at Düsseldorf University Hospital on September 10th, aiming to encrypt data and then demand payment to unlock it again.

The same ransomware has been used in cyber attacks around the world carried out “by a group of hackers that, according to private security firms, is based in Russia”, the report said.

The attack saw the hospital's computer system become disconnected from the ambulance network.

A severely ill woman was therefore admitted to a hospital further away in Wuppertal and died shortly afterwards.

READ ALSO: Manslaughter probe as patient dies after Düsseldorf hospital hacking attack

The longer distance that the ambulance had to travel led to an hour's delay before medical staff were able to treat her.

Cologne prosecutors last week opened an investigation into involuntary manslaughter against unknown suspects over the woman's death.

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

Investigators suspect that the hackers had not meant to hit the hospital, with the actual target thought to have been the affiliated Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.

Local police were able to contact the hackers during the attack to tell them patients' lives were at risk, prompting the hackers to hand over a decryption key before breaking off communication.

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.

The German government has in recent years blamed Russia for several high-profile attempts by hackers to spy on lawmakers or leading politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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HOSPITAL

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

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