COVID-19 Pandemic made Hospitals more susceptible to Cyberattacks

Security experts say that the recent cyberattacks on Newfoundland and Labrador’s healthcare system, which resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of medical procedures & appointments and forced authorities to switch back to paper, isn’t just a single incident.

But, in fact, hackers have been increasingly targeting healthcare institutions since the start of the pandemic because the covid-19 pandemic has put on pressure on victims to pay up.


Here we have listed down the five factors that help understand the rising trend of cyberattacks on hospitals and healthcare facilities:

1. Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is a new form of malware attack where hackers encrypt or delete someone’s data until they pay a ransom. This latest hacking technique has changed the dynamics of cyber-attacks, said Robert Gordon, an advisor at the Canadian Threat Exchange, a non-profit organization motivated to reduce cyber threats from the country.

Earlier, hospitals used to be the least interesting areas for hackers because they don’t usually possess valuable trade secrets or intellectual properties, he said.

“Ransomware has changed that, because now the data you’ve got, it doesn’t have to be of value to the attacker, it just has to be of value to you,” he continued. “Because if it’s of value to you, you’re willing to pay to either keep it or get it back.”

2. The Pandemic has made Hospitals susceptible to Cyberattacks

“Cyberattacks, and particularly ransomware attacks, are all about leverage,” said Charles Finlay, executive director of the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst at Ryerson University.

“Ransomware attackers attack organizations from which they believe that they can generate the highest ransom payment. Attacking a hospital or a medical system in the context of COVID-19, in the context of an ongoing public health crisis, generates significant leverage.”

Although the nature of the attack on Newfoundland and Labrador hasn’t been known yet. Finlay said, however, that ransomware attacks are often directed at “critical infrastructure” like food supply chains, pipelines, and healthcare systems.

These attacks are usually sophisticated in nature, require plenty of effort and careful planning to execute.

3. Other Canadian Health institutions have also been attacked

Paul-Emile Cloutier, CEO, and president of HealthCareCAN said that there have been several cyber attacks reported in Ontario since 2019, including local hospitals, a private laboratory services company in Toronto, and the digital agency responsible for handling digital health records in Saskatchewan.

He said that the increased use of technology also made these facilities vulnerable.

4. Cyberattacks on Healthcare facilities put Patient Safety at Risk

“This is not just a security issue, it’s a patient safety issue.”

Hospitals hold pretty sensitive patient data – their medical records and private details that those patients wouldn’t want to disclose. Besides, just like the attacks in Newfoundland’s Eastern Health, cyberattacks can also disrupt health operations and lead to the cancellation of crucial medical procedures, putting patients back on the waiting list for surgeries and other care, he said.

5. Victims often pay the Ransom

According to a survey conducted by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 17 institutions have been hit by a ransomware attack. About 69 percent of the victim paid the ransom. These hackers are preying on the people’s anxiousness, fear, and helplessness caused by the pandemic.