Coronavirus hospital suspends activity over cyberattack

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Brno University Hospital in the Czech Republic has incurred a crippling cyberattack in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, causing it to suspend scheduled operations. 

The attack rendered the hospital unable to transfer information from key clinical systems to its database, and was adjudged serious enough to switch off IT systems and shift acute patients to an alternative facility.

The hospital - which is the nation’s second largest - is also among the most significant COVID-19 testing centres in the country, although it’s unclear whether the incident affected the hospital’s ability to test patients for the novel virus.

The precise nature of the attack is unknown, but signs point to the possibility the hospital’s IT infrastructure was encrypted by ransomware.

Coronavirus cyberattack

The incident was confirmed by the Czech National Office for Cyber and Information Security (NÚKIB), which is collaborating with law enforcement and hospital personnel to bring the facility back into full commission.

Until now, coronavirus-related cybercrime has been limited to phishing attacks (targeted emails using alarmist headlines and malicious attachments to inject malware) and misinformation campaigns. 

However, experts are warning the outbreak will provide fertile ground for opportunist cybercriminals of all varieties.

Flavius Plesu, founder of human risk intelligence platform OutThink, believes criminals will see the coronavirus outbreak as a chance to capitalise on lax security practices.

“At times of crisis, hackers see opportunity. Unfortunately, with so many hospital staff having to go above and beyond the call of duty in an effort to try and halt the spread of coronavirus, they aren’t thinking about cybersecurity. Hackers know this and will be specifically targeting the healthcare sector,” he told TechRadar Pro.

The introduction of social distancing policies by many European nations is also causing a spike in remote working, which could pose a threat to cybersecurity.

“Organisations [should] be particularly vigilant at this time, and ensure those connecting remotely exercise caution. They should communicate clearly with workers to ensure they are aware of the risks, and do everything they can to secure remote access for those self-isolating or connecting from home,” advises David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky.

COVID-19 is believed to have originated in the Chinese province of Wuhan. To date, more than 171,000 cases have been confirmed and roughly 6,500 have died worldwide.

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.