Interpol has issued an alert to global law enforcement agencies about the increased risk of ransomware attacks on hospitals, health care providers and other organizations on the front line of response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Purple Notice, issued to all 194 member countries, notified them that Interpol’s Cybercrime Threat Response team has detected a “significant increase” in ransomware attempts against hospitals and medical organizations.

According to a spokesman from Interpol, “[A]s hospitals and medical organizations around the world are working non-stop to preserve the well-being of individuals stricken with the coronavirus, they have become targets for ruthless cyber-criminals who are looking to make a profit at the expense of sick patients. Locking hospitals out of their critical systems will not only delay the swift medical response required during these unprecedented times, it could directly lead to deaths. INTERPOL continues to stand by its member countries and provide assistance necessary to ensure our vital healthcare systems remain untouched and the criminals targeting them held accountable.”

The primary vector for the ransomware attacks continues to be phishing attempts. Unfortunately, due to the emergency nature of COVID-19, healthcare workers are working long, stressful hours, and may not be as vigilant as usual in spotting phishing emails. The criminals are luring tired workers into clicking on links and attachments with subject lines that appear to be COVID-19- related or are from the Centers for Disease Control or other governmental bodies trying to keep healthcare workers informed about the rapidly spreading virus.

Hospitals and other healthcare entities should be aware of these warnings from INTERPOL and Microsoft [view related post] and notify their employees to be extra vigilant when opening emails, links and attachments.