Healthcare organisations under increased pressure from ransomware attacks despite hackers promising to avoid them during the COVID-19 crisis

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Hackers continue their global cyber-assault, specifically focusing their efforts on healthcare organisations.

Healthcare organisations across the globe are under significant strain dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While several measures are being offered by government, cyber-security and financial organisations to reduce that strain, social engineers are doing quite the opposite.

“At this point, the ransomware appears to be spreading primarily via emails”

Jurgen Stock – Secretary General, Interpol

It’s been less than a month since the major hacking group behind the Maze ransomware threat promised to avoid healthcare organisations until ” the stabilization of the situation with the virus”. Unfortunately, the real-world consequences of this may not be all that visible to healthcare professionals. Less than one week prior to their official “cease-fire” the UK’s Hammersmith Medicines Research (HMR) suffered a data breach at the hands of the Maze ransomware group, exposing the personal and medical data of thousands of patients from the medical facility.

“The attacks are as prevalent as ever. There has been no abatement, empathy or free decryptor granted by cybercriminals”

Bill Siegel – CEO, Coveware

HMR is a UK research team on standby for developing a COVID-19 vaccine, and are among many similar healthcare organisations targeted by ransomware during this difficult period. California-based biotech firm 10x Genomics, who are actively researching treatments for COVID-19, suffered a data breach at the hands of the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware group and expressed in a statement their overall “disappointment” that hackers chose this time to exploit such an organisation.

“It is particularly disappointing that we would be attacked at a time when our products are being used widely by researchers around the world to understand and fight COVID-19.”

Spokesperson – 10x Genomics

The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) issued last week a “Purple notice” to all 194 member countries and is working specifically to fight the work of cyber-criminals targeting the healthcare segment.

“As hospitals and medical organizations 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.”

Jurgen Stock – Secretary General, Interpol

The Interpol Chief also emphasised the severity of these attacks, stating their direct connection to human deaths and offering “any assistance necessary” to member countries.

“Locking hospitals out of their critical systems will not only delay the swift medical response required during these unprecedented times, it could 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.”

Jurgen Stock – Secretary General, Interpol

The proliferation of social engineering attacks during this trying time is more than a monetary concern, at this stage a successful phishing email poses a direct threat to human life. The ability to spot phishing emails is essential in all organisations.

At Phishing Tackle, we are working with many healthcare organisations to help their staff understand how to avoid malicious emails and we highly encourage all organisations to take further steps to increase employee cyber awareness.

Security awareness training, coupled with simulated phishing exercises still offers the most cost-effective route to increasing cyber awareness, and we’ve created several free tools to help your organisation get started.

Our Free Click-Prone® Test reveals how many of your users are susceptible to falling for a phishing attack and available to use right now.

At the time of writing, PhishingTackle.com is offering all global healthcare organisations three months full access to our security awareness training, simulated phishing and policy distribution platform completely free in a bid to help reduce the additional damage caused by malicious actors during this time.

Main image adapted from Freepik.com