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Deemed as ‘attractive targets’, hospitals hit by surge in ransomware

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WASHINGTON: Hackers are stepping up attacks on healthcare systems with ransomware in the United States and other countries, creating new risks for medical care as the global coronavirus pandemic accelerates.

An unusual warning last week from the FBI with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services underscored the threat.

The three agencies "have credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to US hospitals and healthcare providers", said the alert issued on Wednesday, calling on health systems to "take timely and reasonable precautions to protect their networks from these threats".

Media reports have cited several US hospitals hit by ransomware.

One of them, the University of Vermont Medical Centre, said in a statement on Thursday it was working with law enforcement on "a now confirmed cyber attack that has affected some of our systems" which has had "variable impacts" on patient care.


Mr Daniel dos Santos of computer security firm Forescout said cash-strapped medical centres are particularly attractive targets for hackers, and that at least 400 hospitals had been hit in the past few weeks in the US and Britain.

Hackers are aware that "healthcare is most likely to pay the ransom because their services are critical", Mr dos Santos said.

"Stopping services means that people will literally be dying."

Security experts say the attacks are accelerating as the pandemic worsens.

Researchers at security firm Check Point said its survey showed healthcare has been the most targeted industry by ransomware, with a 71 per cent jump in attacks on US providers in October last month from a month earlier.

Check Point said there have been significant rises in ransomware attacks on hospitals in Asia, Europe and the Middle East as well.

Globally, the firm said ransomware attacks were up 50 per cent in the third quarter compared with the first half of this year. - AFP