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Healthcare Cyber Attacks Rise Alongside Coronavirus Cases

Michael Behr

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healthcare cyber attacks

With hospitals being pushed to capacity by the surge in coronavirus cases, they represent an increasingly lucrative target for ransomware attacks.

Cybersecurity specialists Check Point have warned that cyber attacks against healthcare groups are rising alongside a global spike in Covid-19 cases.

The company warned that cyberattacks against healthcare organisations have increased by 45% since November 2020.

When compared to all other industry sectors over the same timeframe, this is more than double the overall increase in cyberattacks. Ransomware attacks are the fastest growing threat to healthcare.

The average number of weekly attacks against the healthcare sector hit 626 per organisation in November, compared with 430 in October, Check Point warned.

Central Europe was the worst hit area, which saw a 145% increase in November. Europe as a whole saw a 67% rise in attacks. Germany among the worst hit countries with a 220% increase.

“Ransomware attacks against hospitals and related organisations are particularly damaging, because any disruption to their systems could affect their ability to deliver care, and endanger life – all this aggravated with the pressures these systems are facing trying to cope with the global increase in COVID-19 cases,” the company stated.

Check Point has made previous warnings that hospitals and other healthcare organisations have been the targets of ransomware attacks. This comes in spite of claims by several groups behind the attacks that they would not target healthcare groups during the coronavirus pandemic.

For the most part, Check Point warned, the increase in attacks is due to hospitals and other healthcare groups proving to be profitable targets. With lives potentially on the line, healthcare providers are often left with little choice but to pay the ransom in other to ensure the fastest return to normal operations.

2020 marked what was arguably the first recorded fatality due to a cyberattack – a woman in Germany died after an ambulance was rerouted from a Dusseldorf hospital that was experiencing an attack. The delay meant that the woman did not receive the treatment she needed in time.

“No hospital or healthcare organisation would want to experience a similar scenario, increasing the likelihood of the organisation meeting the attacker’s demands in the hope of minimising disruption,” Check Point added.

In order to stay protected against cyberattacks, Check Point provided organisations with several recommendations.

The company noted that most ransomware attacks over the past year took place over the weekends and during holidays when IT and security staff are less likely to be working. As such, it is important to maintain security standards even during time off.

As such, keeping employees educated about potential threats is vital to ensure robust security. This includes guarding against malicious emails and contain malware.

The company warned that ransomware attacks usually start with an initial trojan infection. As such, keeping vigilant for Trickbot, Emotet, Dridex and Cobalt Strike infections is vital.

Using anti-ransomware solutions with remediation features are effective tools to help groups restore normal operations in just a few minutes if an infection takes place.

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Cybercriminals thrive on uncertainty, and even after almost a year, people are struggling to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. The rollout of vaccine campaigns and new lockdowns across the UK have provided cybercriminals with ample opportunities to target people unsure as to exactly what is going on.

The threat is not just limited to large organisations – individuals are being targeted too. There have been reports of a wave of scam text messages claiming to have come from HMRC offering a new grant on the back of the latest lockdown. Anyone looking to claim the fake grant are then asked to provide the scammers with their card details.

In addition, cybercriminals are piggybacking on the national vaccine programme, creating fake websites that require users to provide identification to register, including their card details.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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