Red Cross calls for governments to help stop healthcare hacks during pandemic

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Hackers have been endangering lives by targeting healthcare organizations during the pandemic, the Red Cross said.


James Martin/CNET

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Hackers are making the coronavirus pandemic worse by endangering lives with cyberattacks, the Red Cross and several prominent tech companies and former world leaders warned in a letter published on Tuesday

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused an uptick in cyberattacks, including hacks against hospitals and groups like the World Health Organization. In April, the WHO reported an increase of cyberattacks by five folds since the start of the pandemic. Criminals have been targeting hospitals with ransomware attacks — hacks that lock up computers unless victims pay them to release it. 

“Over the past weeks, we have witnessed attacks that have targeted medical facilities and organizations on the front line of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter stated. “These actions have endangered human lives by impairing the ability of these critical institutions to function, slowing down the distribution of essential supplies and information, and disrupting the delivery of care to patients.”

The letter includes signatures from the International Committee of the Red Cross’s president Peter Maurer, Microsoft president Brad Smith, cybersecurity company Kaspersky president Eugene Kaspersky, and former world leaders including the former presidents of Mexico, Uruguay, Liberia, Slovenia, Brazil and Poland. 

Cybersecurity companies have been seeing a sharp rise of attempted hacks against the healthcare industry during the pandemic. In March, the Maze ransomware group had targeted Hammersmith Medicines Research, a medical firm that had been working on vaccines for COVID-19. 

Healthcare organizations have also become the targets of nation-state hackers, not just criminals looking for a quick profit. On May 13, the Trump administration accused the Chinese government of attempting to hack and steal information for developing a coronavirus vaccine. 

While these cyberattacks have been far and plenty, the enforcement against it has not been, the Red Cross argued in its letter. The organization noted that medical facilities are “particularly vulnerable” to cyberattacks, an issue that experts have long warned about

The letter calls for governments to work with cybersecurity companies and take more action against hackers targeting hospitals and the healthcare industry, as these attacks during the pandemic can cause life-or-death situations. 

“Cyber operations that disrupt hospital computers, medical supply chains, or medical devices, risk interrupting the provision of health care and pose great risk to those seeking medical care. If hospitals are no longer functioning, life-saving treatment will not be available,” the letter said. 

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