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Red Cross calls for governments to help stop health care hacks during pandemic

Cyberattacks are targeting health care organizations and putting lives at risk, the organization warns.

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Hackers have been endangering lives by targeting health care organizations during the pandemic, the Red Cross said.

James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Hackers are making the coronavirus pandemic worse by endangering lives with cyberattacks, the Red Cross and several prominent tech companies and former world leaders warned in a letter published on Tuesday. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused an uptick in cyberattacks, including hacks against hospitals and groups like the World Health Organization. In April, the WHO reported a fivefold increase in cyberattacks since the start of the pandemic. Criminals have been targeting hospitals with ransomware in hacks that lock up computers unless victims pay to get them released. 

"Over the past weeks, we have witnessed attacks that have targeted medical facilities and organizations on the front line of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter states. "These actions have endangered human lives by impairing the ability of these critical institutions to function, slowing down the distribution of essential supplies and information, and disrupting the delivery of care to patients."

The letter includes signatures from the International Committee of the Red Cross' president, Peter Maurer; Microsoft president Brad Smith; Eugene Kaspersky, president of cybersecurity company Kaspersky; and world leaders including the former presidents of Mexico, Uruguay, Liberia, Slovenia, Brazil and Poland. 

Cybersecurity companies have been seeing a sharp rise in attempted hacks against the health care industry during the pandemic. In March, the Maze ransomware group targeted Hammersmith Medicines Research, a medical firm working on vaccines for COVID-19.

See also: How long will the coronavirus last and will there be a second wave? Here's what we know

Health care organizations have also become the targets of nation-state hackers, not just criminals looking for a quick profit. On May 13, the Trump administration accused the Chinese government of attempting to hack and steal information for developing a coronavirus vaccine. 

While these cyberattacks have been wide-ranging, the enforcement against them has not been, the Red Cross said in its letter. The organization noted that medical facilities are "particularly vulnerable" to cyberattacks, an issue that experts have long warned about

The letter calls for governments to work with cybersecurity companies and take more action against hackers targeting hospitals and the health care industry, as these attacks during the pandemic can cause life-or-death situations. 

"Cyber operations that disrupt hospital computers, medical supply chains, or medical devices, risk interrupting the provision of health care and pose great risk to those seeking medical care. If hospitals are no longer functioning, life-saving treatment will not be available," the letter says.

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