Cyberattacks on Health Care Groups Increase During COVID-19 Pandemic


COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has created a number of problems for health care workers as they scramble to treat patients with multiple drug regimens. The disease is also causing another problem, a rise in cyberattacks.

Over the weekend, data analytics group GlobalData released a report that showed the global health care sector has been subjected to an array of cyberattacks as it deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those agencies being attacked by hackers are the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, hospitals and other health care groups have also been targeted. Google has reported it is tracking more than 240 million COVID-related daily spam messages.

Rajesh Muru, the principal analyst at GlobalData, said the pandemic has created challenges in health care information technology “as IT business units prioritize IT budgets and focus on business continuity in running IT under the new norm.” Muru said there are positives from this tighter integration, but it has made networks vulnerable to cyberattacks such as email phishing, ransomware, denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and network data breaches.

Muru adds that the internet has become the backbone of IT, particularly since so many people are now working remotely, but that also contributes to the security concerns. It can leave hospital information systems, laboratory information systems, personal health records, policy and procedure management systems and more open for hostile attacks. Additionally, Murus said there are concerns regarding endpoint devices that connect to the internet, or “via legacy dispersed networks that are often unpatched.”

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that online crimes “have roughly quadrupled since the coronavirus pandemic.” According to a report in The Hill, the Internet Crime Complaint Center is receiving between 3,000 and 4,000 cybersecurity complaints each day. Prior to the pandemic, the reports were approximately 1,000 per day. According to Tonya Ugoretz, the deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division said during a presentation that many of the hackers have a ‘“desire to gain insight” into COVID-19-related research and that the “rapid shift to telework” has opened up a huge amount of cyber vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit,” The Hill reported.

“Countries have a very high interest in information on the virus … such as information on a vaccine,” Ugoretz said, according to the report. “We have certainly seen reconnaissance activity and some intrusions into some of those institutions, especially those who have identified themselves as working on COVID research.”

While the pandemic is creating problems, Muru said over the past several years, IT directors have been boosting security measures and GlobalData is seeing a greater proportion of IT budgets spent on cybersecurity.

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