NWT health computers hit by ‘small-scale’ virus

Last modified: November 20, 2019 at 4:10pm

Computers at one of the Northwest Territories’ health authorities were hit by what the territory termed “a small-scale virus” on Tuesday.

The territorial government told Cabin Radio nine machines were infected. The virus was not identified, though a spokesperson said the attack did not involve ransomware.

The Government of Nunavut is still trying to recover from a massive ransomware attack – in which files were encrypted and a ransom payment for their release demanded – earlier this month. That incident has heightened concern for the security of government networks across the North.


The NWT’s Department of Finance controls the territorial government’s computer systems and security.

In a statement to Cabin Radio, department spokesperson Todd Sasaki said: “No data was compromised as a result of the virus and the incident did not affect the delivery of front-line services.”

Any industry, any government has to be on guard for these things.CAROLINE WAWZONEK, FINANCE MINISTER

Sasaki said the NWT government “vigilantly monitors for suspicious activity and continues to do what is needed to protect the information in our custody and control.”

The department did not specify which of the territory’s health authorities had suffered the attack, nor how the virus was introduced to the nine computers in question.


“Those computers were removed from the network to reduce the risk of further spreading of the virus. Work is under way to wipe and restore these computers to ensure the threat is removed before they are returned to service,” said Sasaki.

“This was not a ransomware attack,” he added. “The GNWT is investigating and sent a message to all health authority employees to raise awareness and encourage them to be alert to other suspicious activity.”

Despite ransomware not being involved, Sasaki said “some file storage locations were encrypted.” That data, he said, was “restored with minimal loss.”

The territory expects the affected computers “will be returned to service quickly,” said Sasaki.


Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek, appearing at a separate media call with cabinet colleagues during the Yellowknife Geoscience Forum, said she felt satisfied the problem had been swiftly handled.

“Any industry, any government has to be on guard for these things, and I think they are actually taking all the right measures,” Wawzonek told Cabin Radio.

“As I understand it, a lot of things were already fixed and in place back before the end of day yesterday. So they’re on it, they’re active.

“I think they’re doing exactly what they need to do, as they need to do it.”

Nunavut’s government is facing a weeks-long battle to fully restore services after a widespread ransomware attack at the start of November.

That attack has had serious consequences for some residents, Nunatsiaq News reports, giving the example of a Kugaaruk resident whose income support application – for a household of seven – was delayed for weeks.

“Over the past two weeks, I’ve been calling and all they say is I have to wait for mine to be approved … and that the computers are still down,” Joyce Nartok Krejunark told the news service.

Emelie Peacock contributed reporting.