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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

How Ransomware Puts Your Hospital at Risk

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Receiving medical treatment during a ransomware attack.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the potential consequences of cyberattacks on hospitals are terrifying.

Credit: Chris Gash

In March, several cybercrime groups rushed to reassure people that they wouldn't target hospitals and other health care facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic. The operators of several prominent strains of ransomware all announced they would not target hospitals, and some of them even promised to decrypt the data of health care organizations for free if one was accidentally infected by their malware. But any cybersecurity strategy that relies on the moral compunctions of criminals is doomed to fail, particularly when it comes to protecting the notoriously vulnerable computer systems of hospitals.

So it's no surprise that Universal Health Services was hit by ransomware late last month, affecting many of its more than 400 health care facilities across the United States and Britain. Or that clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine have been held up by a similar ransomware attack disclosed in early October. Or that loose-knit coalitions of volunteers all over the world are working around the clock to try to protect the computer systems of hospitals that are already straining under the demands of providing patient care during a global pandemic.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the potential consequences of these cyberattacks are terrifying. Hospitals that have lost access to their databases or had their networks infected by ransomware may not be able to admit patients in need of care or may take longer to provide those patients with the treatment they need, if they switch to relying on paper records. Clinical trials for potentially life-saving pharmaceuticals could be delayed by weeks or months, depending on how long it takes to restore the affected data and systems. Cybersecurity has never been more vitally important for hospitals than it is right now.


From The New York Times

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