Hospitals face a surge of cyberattacks during the Covid-19 pandemic

Hospitals that are already pushed to their limit dealing with a patient surge from the novel coronavirus pandemic are getting slammed with cyberattacks and digital scams, as well. 

Among the most damaging are ransomware attacks that aim to shut down entire hospitals until they pay a fee that can cost millions of dollars. 

Such attacks shut down computers at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District in Illinois for three days in March and forced the district to shell out $300,000 in ransom, as reported by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline service. Another attack shut down computers at a university hospital in the Czech Republic, which was forced to turn away patients.

The attacks have prompted stark warnings to hospitals from the Department of Homeland Security and from Interpol, which warned of a “significant increase” in cyberattacks targeting hospitals around the globe. Interpol issued a “purple notice” — basically a warning about a criminal trend and its methods — alerting police in 194 countries about the heightened ransomware threat. 

The attacks are part of a surge in hacks and scams prompted by the coronavirus pandemic aimed at taking advantage of people’s dislocation and fears. But they’re particularly effective against hospitals where the intense pressure created by the pandemic might make workers more likely to slip up and click a link they shouldn’t, Jen Miller-Osborn, deputy director of Palo Alto Networks’s Unit 42 threat intelligence unit, told me. 

“People are stressed, and it might short-circuit the logic in their brain that says I shouldn’t click that,” she said. 

Miller-Osborn’s group found hackers trying to lock up computers at a Canadian government health organization and a Canadian medical research university by posing as officials from the World Health Organization in a report out yesterday. The group also logged attempted digital attacks against medical research facilities in Canada and Japan, but it didn’t name any of the victims.

September 4, 2019

Thieves used voice-mimicking software to imitate a company executive’s speech and dupe his subordinate into sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to a secret account, the company’s insurer said, in a remarkable case that some researchers are calling one of the world’s first publicly reported artificial-intelligence heists.

The managing director of a British energy company, believing his boss was on the phone, followed orders one Friday afternoon in March to wire more than $240,000 to an account in Hungary, said representatives from the French insurance giant Euler Hermes, which declined to name the company…

Federal and state authorities on Tuesday announced that they had targeted dozens of robocallers accused of placing an estimated 1 billion spam calls to consumers, a crackdown they said should send a signal about the government’s heightened attention to Americans harmed by such scams.

Some of the robocallers sought to deceive people into paying fees or surrendering their personal information for fraudulent services, such as lowering their credit card interest rates or providing help with health insurance, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which worked alongside state attorneys general and other local law enforcement officials…

In the heart of Boston, Tufts Medical Center treats scores of health conditions, administering measles vaccines for children and pioneering next-generation tools that can eradicate the rarest of cancers.

But doctors, administrators and other hospital staff struggled to contain a much different kind of epidemic one April morning last year: a wave of thousands of robocalls that spread like a virus from one phone line to the next, disrupting communications for hours…

For most Americans, robocalls are an inescapable annoyance, thanks to scammers, telemarketers and debt-collectors that target smartphones and landlines at all hours of the day.

For a cancer center in Tampa, though, these auto-dialed calls are a danger to doctors and patients alike — one that should prompt Congress to take action.

The plea for help came Tuesday as House lawmakers embarked on a new effort to crack down on robocalls that rang consumers’ mobile phones roughly 26 billion times in 2018, according to one industry estimate. The calls largely are the work of fraudsters who mask their identities by using phone numbers that resemble those that they’re trying to contact, a tactic known as spoofing that’s meant to dupe consumers into answering the phone and then surrendering personal information…


The ever-worsening scourge of robo-calls is receiving renewed attention in Congress, where top Democrats and Republicans this week are set to take an early step toward cracking down on scammers who prey on consumers’ phones.

The newly revived effort in the Senate takes aim at those who disguise their attempts to steal Americans’ personal information — often by using phone numbers that appear similar to those they’re trying to target. These fraudulent, illegal calls comprised roughly a quarter of the 26 billion robo-calls placed to U.S. mobile numbers last year, according to one industry estimate…


January 29, 2019

Americans are now getting so many robo-calls on a regular basis that many are simply choosing not to answer the phone altogether.

That’s one big takeaway from a report released Tuesday by Hiya, a Seattle-based spam-monitoring service that analyzed activity from 450,000 users of its app to determine the scope of unwanted robo-calling — and how phone users react when they receive an automated call.

Consistent with other analyses, Hiya’s report found that the number of robo-calls is on the rise. Roughly 26.3 billion robo-calls were placed to U.S. phone numbers last year, Hiya said, up from 18 billion in 2017. One report last year projected that as many as half of all cellphone calls in 2019 could be spam…

January 11, 2019

Robo-calls keep ringing and ringing Americans’ phones — and the government shutdown could make the never-ending assault even worse.

With federal agencies closed, consumers have been left with few options to defend against the tidal wave of unwanted automated calls coming from telemarketers, scam artists and debt collectors that target Americans’ home phones and mobile devices at all hours of the day.

In Washington, federal regulators aren’t around to administer the nation’s anti-robo-call rules. They can’t take consumers’ complaints, warn Americans about potential fraud or investigate the worst offenders, experts say. Already, some scammers even appear to be trying to target Americans about the shutdown itself…

November 20, 2018

The U.S. government said Tuesday that it plans to take aim at the scourge of unwelcome phone calls and spam text messages plaguing millions of consumers — but one of its proposals drew sharp rebukes, with critics concerned that it could enable telecom giants to censor legitimate communications.

The first measure, announced by the Federal Communications Commission, aims to create a national database containing information about phone numbers that have recently been disconnected and reassigned to someone else. The effort aims to help businesses, such as banks and pharmacies, avoid dialing the wrong customers repeatedly.

October 25, 2018

Cash is not king when it comes to the latest round of scams.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning to consumers that criminals are posing as government officials and asking people to use a gift card to pay a bogus tax bill or get a new Medicare card.

This type of crime is adding up to big bucks. The FTC said victims reported losing $20 million to such fraud in 2015. In just the first three quarters of this year, the losses have been $53 million…