The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March created an environment in which cybercriminals thrive, with the healthcare sector being the soft target.
In the past seven months, there has been an increase in cyber-attacks targeting health facilities by criminals out to take advantage of security gaps left by staff in their rush to contain the virus.
The attacks are coming in the form of malicious domains containing key terms such as 'coronavirus', 'Covid-19' and 'Covid 19', to carry out spam campaigns, phishing or to spread malware.
They are also in form of increased malware attacks targeting hospital software, staff laptops and mobile phones. A new report by a leading provider of cyber security solutions, Check Point Software Technologies, shows that Trickbot and Emotet Trojans are still the top two most prevalent malware.
They are responsible for the sharp increase in ransomware attacks against hospitals and healthcare providers. Cyber security solutions provider Kaspersky defines Trojans as malware types that often disguise as legitimate software.
They are deployed by cyber-criminals and hackers trying to gain access to systems to steal information, compromise data, divert money and build botnets. In other cases, they are used to spy, infiltrate systems and destroy key infrastructure used in hospitals and response institutions, which are overwhelmed by the health crisis, to disrupt systems or block their access.
The research showed that the healthcare sector was the most targeted by ransomware, with attacks against hospitals increasing by 36 per cent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and 33 per cent in Asia Pacific countries last month. In the United States, attacks increased by 71 per cent in October compared to September.
"We've seen ransomware attacks increasing since the pandemic began, to try and take advantage of security gaps as organisations scramble to support remote workforces. They have surged alarmingly over the past three months," said Maya Horowitz, director, Threat Intelligence & Research.
Earlier, Interpol had warned that cyber-attacks, including spam emails, would be used to trick users into clicking on links which download malware to their computers or mobile devices. "Hospitals, medical centres and public institutions are being targeted by cybercriminals for ransom ware attacks since they are overwhelmed by the health crisis and cannot afford to be locked out of their systems, the criminals believe they are likely to pay the ransom," the organisation cautioned on its website.
To avoid an attack, Interpol advise states, private organisations and individuals to back all their files on an external hard drive or in the cloud.
Staff are advised to ensure the website they are logging their details into belongs to legitimate organisations or firms.
Further, use of secure networks, strong and updated passwords and disabling of third party components that may be used as entry points by hackers is advised.