Interpol has warned that cybercriminals could increase ransomware attacks to hold hospitals to ransom during the spread of COVID-19, despite the work being carried out to save lives during the pandemic.
Hackers are spreading ransomware through emails, claiming to contain information or advice about COVID-19 from a government agency, which encourages clicking on an infected link or attachment. The user is then locked out of the system until a ransom is paid.
In response, Interpol has set up a Cybercrime Threat Response to monitor all cyberthreats relating to the virus, and to work with cybersecurity specialists to gather information and provide support to targeted organisations.
Interpol Secretary-General, Jürgen Stock, commented: “As hospitals and medical organisations around the world are working non-stop to preserve the well-being of individuals stricken with the coronavirus, they have become targets for ruthless cybercriminals who are looking to make a profit at the expense of sick patients
“Locking hospitals out of their critical systems will not only delay the swift medical response required during these unprecedented times, but it could also directly lead to deaths. Interpol continues to stand by its member countries and provide any assistance necessary to ensure our vital healthcare systems remain untouched and the criminals targeting them held accountable.”
The company says that prevention and mitigation are the key to stopping the attacks, and encourages hospitals to “ensure all their hardware and software are regularly kept up to date”.
“They should also implement strong safety measures like backing up all essential files and storing these separately from their main systems,” Stock says.
These new attacks have caused Interpol to alert all 194 of its member countries and are working with the cybersecurity professionals and assisting national police forces.
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Although the ransomware attacks are taking place worldwide, the NHS as been previously been a victim of a major cyberattack that crippled its systems. The 2018 WannaCry attack cost the NHS £92 million and saw 19,000 appointments cancelled.
The hackers used sophisticated hacking tools developed by the US National Security Agency to attacks the health service. It was later revealed that the NHS was using computers with the outdated Windows XP operating systems, making it easy for hackers to gain access.
In the attack, more than 200,000 computers locked out users with red-lettered error messages demanding Bitcoin. The attack was blamed on elite North Korean hackers after a year-long investigation.