Federal Bureau of Investigation warns hospitals of 'increased and imminent' ransomware threat

U.S. federal agencies sent an alert Wednesday night that there is

U.S. federal agencies sent an alert Wednesday night that there is"credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to hospitals and healthcare providers

The FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security and known as CISA, said hackers were targeting the sector, "often leading to ransomware attacks, data theft and the disruption of health-care services", according to an advisory.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software used by cybercriminals to encrypt users' files until a ransom is paid.

The defensive measures follow an advisory Wednesday from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services that cybercriminals were deploying Ryuk ransomware to disrupt IT networks and extort hospitals.

Federal agencies warned that cybercriminals could unleash a wave of data-scrambling extortion attempts against the USA health care system, an effort that, if successful, could paralyze hospital information systems just as nationwide cases of COVID-19 are spiking.

In September, a ransomware attack hobbled all 250 US facilities of the hospital chain Universal Health Services, forcing doctors and nurses to rely on paper and pencil for record-keeping and slowing lab work.

Attackers using Trickbot malware, which is also cited in the federal advisory, claimed Monday in private communications channel to have attacked more than 400 hospitals in the USA, said Alex Holden, the founder of the cyber investigations firm Hold Security.

"While multiple ransomware attacks against healthcare providers each week have been commonplace, this is the first time we have seen six hospitals targeted in the same day by the same ransomware actor".

A day after US federal agencies warned of an "imminent" ransomware threat to hospitals, it's an all-hands-on deck mentality for a health sector already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Employees described chaotic conditions impeding patient care. "They are hitting where it hurts even more and they know it".

Mandiant's Carmakal identified the criminal gang as UNC1878, saying "it is deliberately targeting and disrupting US hospitals, forcing them to divert patients to other healthcare providers" and producing prolonged delays in critical care.

While no one has proven suspected ties between the Russian government and gangs that use the Trickbot platform that distributes Ryuk and other malware, Holden said he has "no doubt that the Russian government is aware of this operation". He said dozens of different criminal groups use Ryuk, paying its architects a cut.

Private threat briefings are being held for hospital executives, federal officials are appealing for more data on the cybercriminals and hospitals are hardening their computer networks.

The FBI is investigating the recent attacks, which include incidents in Oregon, California and NY. "Multiple hospitals have already been significantly impacted by Ryuk ransomware and their networks have been taken offline".

Mitch Parker, executive director of information security and compliance at Indiana University Health, said that security experts were hunting for potential ransomware infections at various health care organizations. The St. Lawrence system said Thursday that no patient or employee data appeared to have been accessed or compromised.

"This appears to have been a coordinated attack created to disrupt hospitals specifically all around the country", said Allan Liska, a threat intelligence analyst with United States cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, as reported by Reuters.

Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, claims that the threats posed to the healthcare system by cyber attackers are a significant concern. A Microsoft spokesman had no immediate comment.

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