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Tomorrow Unlocked: Hacking In Healthcare


Earlier this year, German police attributed a patient's death to a cyberattack for the first time ever, after a ransomware attack on Dusseldorf University Hospital heavily disrupted emergency care.  It's part of a growing wave of cyberattacks on the healthcare sector during the pandemic, with both the UK's National Cyber Security Center and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency spotting large-scale password-spraying campaigns against healthcare organizations.

Healthcare organizations have a perfect storm of being under intense pressure to maintain round-the-clock care, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, while also working with technology that is often far from the cutting edge with staff who are not naturally digitally savvy.  Indeed, the Data Literacy Index places healthcare workers at the bottom in terms of their digital capabilities, while the WannaCry hack on the UK’s National Health Service was possible in large part due to the huge network of unpatched copies of Windows 7 still in operation.
Given this perfect storm, therefore, it’s perhaps no surprise that the sector has become a target for cybercriminals during the pandemic.  This journey into the crosshairs has been chronicled in a new two-part documentary from the cybersecurity company Kaspersky.  The documentary, which is called hacker:HUNTER Ha(ck)cine, is being aired on the YouTube channel of the company’s online magazine Tomorrow Unlocked and is the third in a series of cybercrime-related documentaries.

Ambulance chasing

It’s often said that out of every crisis comes an opportunity, and for cybercriminals, the coronavirus pandemic has been a huge opportunity due to the panic and uncertainty it has caused.  The documentary makers speak to a wide range of healthcare organizations, research centers, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies from around the world to try and understand the specific threats from malware and other forms of cyberattack during the pandemic.

The documentary highlights the surge in cyberattacks the sector has faced, with the World Health Organisation alone reporting a fivefold increase in cyberattacks on its own IT systems since March.  State-sponsored hackers make up a significant proportion of these attacks, with hackers particularly interested in the kind of biodata that is not only so valuable in tackling the disease, but which promises a rich bounty for any companies able to develop treatments.

By contrast, cybercriminals are simply taking advantage of the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds the world at the moment.  The technical and capability challenges that make the healthcare sector vulnerable have always been there, but the pandemic has made the sector even more exposed, especially as criminals are aware that the demand for service levels to be uninterrupted is likely to make any ransom requests more successful.  This was ably illustrated back in March, when Brno University Hospital, in the Czech Republic, was crippled by a cyberattack and held to ransom at a time when the country was relying on it heavily to conduct COVID-19 testing.

Rallying round

The documentary highlights the groundswell of support from the cybersecurity community to prevent the sector from being crippled by hackers.  It builds on a huge outpouring of support in countries around the world for doctors and nurses, and the documentary cites CV19, which is a voluntary community of around 3,000 cybersecurity professionals who are offering support to healthcare organizations throughout the supply chain to ensure their systems remain operational.

“I was blown away by the passion and dedication of the cybersecurity community to help get the public through this pandemic - to keep systems and the free flow of scientific and medical services running in the face of overwhelming challenges and attacks. The willingness of our busy, high profile contributors to share their time, experience and stories, and the talented crew to adapt and rise to the challenges of remote filming transformed what should have been a difficult film to make, into a fascinating and rewarding experience”, says Didi Mae Hand, the director of ‘hacker:HUNTER Ha(ck)cine’. 

“There’s been so much going on behind the scenes, I’m excited for people to see the film and shine a light on the incredible work of the cyber-community during a really challenging year. We saw so much solidarity, so much interest by all our contributors, who really did everything they could to make this film happen. It was impressive!”

The documentary consists of two 20-minute episodes:

  • ‘hacker:HUNTER Ha(ck)cine: Healthcare on the Edge’, which launches on September 25th at 5PM CEST, portrays these volunteers and shows how an attack on a hospital during the pandemic can effectively shut it down
  • ‘hacker:HUNTER Ha(ck)cine: Defending the Cure’, which launches on October 2nd at 5PM CEST, discusses how the World Health Organisation and research centers suddenly came under attack as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic started
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