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A public health district in Illinois paid hackers a $350,000 ransom after facing a ransomware attack, an attack in which hackers lock up a network and demand payment to return access to these systems. A hospital in the Czech Republic, which is providing coronavirus testing, also experienced disruptions last month following a cyberattack, and the state’s cybersecurity agency warned that it is “highly probable” that more hackers will continue targeting health care organizations.

Ransomware attacks have presented a growing threat to hospitals since January. During the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals around the world are increasingly becoming the target of hackers who see health care facilities as easy prey. 

In the US, Experts are warning that they expect these attacks to increase and that the threat has captured the attention of top intelligence lawmakers, who warn the outbreak and the ransomware attacks create the perfect storm.

While attacks that take advantage of the sick and vulnerable are not new, the increase comes at a time when health care systems are scrambling to save lives.

“Major hospital systems are ill-equipped to handle ransomware incidents and data breaches,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told thehill.com. “COVID-19 has only made that situation worse, with increased attacks and hospital resources stretched perilously thin,” Warner added.

The INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Threat Response team has recently warned that it “has detected a significant increase in the number of attempted ransomware attacks against key organizations and infrastructure engaged in the virus response.” “Cybercriminals are using ransomware to hold hospitals and medical services digitally hostage; preventing them from accessing vital files and systems until a ransom is paid,” the organization warned.

The COVID-19 CTI League, which is made up of more than 1,000 information security professionals worldwide, operates to thwart cyberattacks on hospitals and other critically important institutions. The League has successfully identified more than 2,000 cyber vulnerabilities at high-risk organizations like hospitals, and works hand-in-hand with law enforcement to ensure the vulnerabilities are addressed as quickly as possible. 

Multiple software and cybersecurity groups are offering free cybersecurity services to hospitals and other health groups, including Microsoft, which offers its AccountGuard service, which boosts email security, to both health care and human rights organizations free of charge until the end of the coronavirus pandemic.