Key medical facilities that are already under intense strain amid the COVID-19 crisis face a growing and potentially deadly threat of being held for digital ransom.
The danger has grown to such an extent that Interpol said on April 4 that it issued a global alert to its 194 member countries, warning of a heightened threat of such ransomware attacks on health care infrastructure and organizations.
"As hospitals and medical organizations around the world are working non-stop to preserve the well-being of individuals stricken with the coronavirus, they have become targets for ruthless cybercriminals who are looking to make a profit at the expense of sick patients," Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock was quoted as saying.
"Locking hospitals out of their critical systems will not only delay the swift medical response required during these unprecedented times, it could directly lead to deaths. Interpol continues to stand by its member countries and provide any assistance necessary to ensure our vital healthcare systems remain untouched and the criminals targeting them held accountable."
The international law enforcement organization's Cybercrime Threat Response Team was said to have "detected a significant increase" of attempts by malicious actors to prevent medical services and hospitals "from accessing vital files and systems until a ransom is paid."
The team is said to be monitoring all cyberthreats related to the pandemic, assisting police with related investigations in member countries, analyzing analysis of cybercrime threat data, and working with the cybersecurity industry to collect information and provide support to ransomware-targeted organizations.
Interpol is also advising member countries on how to protect critical medical facilities, providing technical support, and scrutinizing suspicious coronavirus-related online domains, according to the organization.
In order to avoid being held digitally hostage, medical institutions should frequently back up all important files and store them on an external drive or cloud; use unique and strong passwords, and update them on a regular basis; only open e-mail or download software from trusted sources; avoid clicking on attachments or links from unknown senders, or ones that were not expected to be received; ensure that the latest anti-virus software is installed and running on all systems and mobile devices; and secure e-mail to protect it from possibly infected spam, Interpol said.
The organization supplies law enforcement agencies around the globe with operational support, data and training. For example, it issues color-coded notices to request cooperation or provide alerts that enable police in member countries to share crime-related information. The ransomware-related alert was in the form of a Purple Notice that according to the organization is intended "to seek or provide information on modus operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals."