Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Govt departments, hospitals warned of hackers exploiting Coronavirus to carry out cyber attacks

As Botswana sleeps with one eye open and takes all possible measures to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus, hospitals and government departments around the country are being warned of hackers who are looking to exploit the Covid-19 to cause systematic problems in the country.

Security experts who spoke to this publication say that since medical and government department workers in Botswana are on heightened attention as they constantly receive email instructions and new developments concerning Covid-19 from their superiors, there is great likelihood that they might click on links or open attachments that they would typically be more cautious about. 

“We have already observed that cyber criminals started preparing for the coronavirus as far back as December when the first cases were reported in China. At the time they were buying web domains which are nearly similar to those used by the World Health Organisation as well as the Centre for Disease Control (CDC),” says Jonathan Reece, senior health strategist at Ripley, which provides cyber security for health companies. 

From his assessment, hackers are aware that southern Africa has relatively weak infrastructure to fight cyber-attacks so they are now opting to use this ready-made ploy to hold hospitals and government departments ransom. Amongst other things, he said cyber-attacks targeting healthcare providers have started to happen in South with some computer systems of some departments being knocked offline.

“It only takes just one member of staff to open an email link that seems like is coming from the World Health Organisation and this would then let hackers gain access to entire networks of government and hospitals, stealing confidential and important files and holding hospitals to ransom,” says Reece. 

As a practitioner whose job is to prepare institutions for worst case scenarios, he says the best protection is working out the most damaging assumed situation and preparing for it. Research into the rise of coronavirus-related cyber-attacks carried out by Ripley – which provides cyber security for health companies – shows that attacks began in mid-January before escalating in the month of February. “These attacks are an opportunistic thing and our assessment of the spread of coronavirus-related attacks shows that this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future in South Africa, Botswana and other southern African countries,” says Ripley. 

The cybersecurity firm cautioned Botswana policymakers to be aware that in this current crisis, channels essential to communicate important coronavirus information to the public are at the highest risk. “The question is no longer if hospitals and healthcare services are targets because they have now become prized targets for hackers,” says Ripley. At the moment, medical health experts have not given a definite time frame of how long the coronavirus will last, but cybersecurity experts concur that the urgency of the healthcare crisis could result in a disquieting goldrush for cybercriminals.

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