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Cybercriminals target remote US hospitals. Microsoft and Google are fixing it.

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The White House, Microsoft and Google announced Monday that rural hospitals in the US will receive free or cheap cybersecurity services to protect them from hacks that have disrupted patient care and risked lives.

image credit: microsoft

Microsoft said  it will provide free security updates, assessments, and staff training for eligible rural hospitals. Google will offer free cybersecurity advise to rural hospitals and launch a pilot initiative to match its cybersecurity services to their needs.

Due to a lack of IT security resources and cybersecurity training, the nation’s 1,800 rural community hospitals are especially vulnerable to ransomware assaults. They may be the only hospitals within dozens of miles, so a ransomware assault that hinders ambulances can endanger patients.

Private meetings between IT corporations and White House National Security Council officials concerned about hospital cyber dangers led to the new declaration. It aims to fill a gap in health care sector defense by using Microsoft and Google’s software, which is used in hospitals nationwide.

Anne Neuberger, the chief cyber officer at the White House National Security Council, told reporters on Sunday that the spate of attacks targeting hospitals is unprecedented.

US hospitals will also receive basic cybersecurity requirements from the Biden administration. The detailsof those proposals are still being determined. The American Hospital Association, which represents hospitals nationwide, opposes the measure because it will penalize cyberattack victims.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, US healthcare ransomware assaults climbed 128% in 2023 compared to 2022. Recent ransomware attacks highlighted the sector’s vulnerability.

Some health clinics faced insolvency after a February ransomware attack on a major health insurance billing business cut them off from billions of dollars. UnitedHealth Group’s compromised subsidiary paid a $22 million ransom to restore patient data. A third of Americans may have had their information stolen.

Multiple nurses at targeted hospitals told CNN that a May ransomware attack on one of America’s largest hospital networks required nurses to manually enter prescription information, endangering patients.

The FBI and its international allies have cracked down on ransomware gangs, seizing their computers and freeing some victim PCs encoded by hackers. US officials claim ransomware thrives because Russian offenders operate with impunity.

Health care is an attractive target because hospitals under pressure to restore patient services may pay the ransom.

“We do see a much more permissive environment in Russia by both hacktivists and criminals, and it’s of concern, White House official Neuberger told reporters. More firms are paying ransoms. Every ransom feeds the beast and fuels more attacks.”

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