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Hackers Could Unleash Ransomware Attacks on US Health System, US Officials Warn

Illustration of hacking and cyberattacking. (Diaa Bekheet)
Illustration of hacking and cyberattacking. (Diaa Bekheet)

Cyber criminals could soon unleash a wave of ransomware attacks targeting U.S. hospitals and health care providers, according to a statement released by three federal agencies, including the FBI.

In the statement, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned they had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers” with the goal of “data theft, and disruption of healthcare services."

Ransomware scrambles data, and it can only be unscrambled if the target pays the attacker a sum of money.

Alex Holden, CEO of Hold Security, told the AP he warned federal authorities about the impending attacks Friday after seeing “infection attempts at a number of hospitals.”

He added that the hackers were demanding ransoms of over $10 million per target and that he had seen attackers discuss plans to infect “more than 400 hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities.”

“One of the comments from the bad guys is that they are expecting to cause panic and, no, they are not hitting election systems,” Holden told AP. “They are hitting where it hurts even more, and they know it.”

In a statement reported by AP, Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said the U.S. is “experiencing the most significant cyber security threat we’ve ever seen.”

He pointed the finger at a criminal gang called UNC1878, adding it was deliberately targeting and disrupting U.S. hospitals, forcing them to divert patients to other healthcare providers.”

He said the eastern European group is “one of most brazen, heartless, and disruptive threat actors I’ve observed over my career.”

Ransomware attacks have risen 40% this year with a particular spike in September, technology website CNET reported, citing data from cybersecurity firm SonicWall.

Last month, a chain of U.S. hospitals run by Universal Health Services was attacked, resulting in doctors and nurses resorting to pencil and paper at 250 facilities, AP reported. Employees said the attacks resulted in emergency room delays and problems with wireless vital signs monitoring equipment.

Brett Callow, an analyst with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, told the AP that “a total of 59 U.S. healthcare providers/systems have been impacted by ransomware in 2020, disrupting patient care at up to 510 facilities.”

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