WASHINGTON – The global health care and pharmaceutical industries bore the brunt of cyberattacks in 2020 as nation-state hackers and criminals targeted companies looking for information on COVID-19 as well as vaccine development, cybersecurity research firm CrowdStrike said in a report made public Monday.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around the world with new variants appearing on multiple continents, forcing widespread closures despite the availability of vaccines, the health care industry is likely to remain in the crosshairs of hackers, the 2021 Global Threat Report from CrowdStrike said.
Compared with 2019, CrowdStrike’s experts tracking cyberattacks across the globe saw a 214 percent increase in cyberattacks and attempts to break into computer networks during the past year, Adam Meyers, senior vice president of intelligence, said in an interview.
“That’s pretty unprecedented,” Meyers said. “I think one of the big drivers there was COVID.”
Nation-state hackers focused on espionage while criminals looking to make money used the digital landscape created by the pandemic to “get into various organizations to conduct ransomware type attacks . . . so it was one of the dominant features of 2020.”
Although criminals accounted for four out of five targeted intrusions uncovered by CrowdStrike, and deserve attention, “state-sponsored groups should not be neglected,” the report said.
Hackers from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam were the major sources of attacks on the health care sector, CrowdStrike said.
Details about the hackers and their methods come from efforts by CrowdStrike to identify and stop attacks on its clients’ networks, but it’s hard to say which of the hackers’ attempts were successful in stealing research or intellectual property, Meyers said. Online theft
In addition to theft of intellectual property, health care companies also face significant threats from criminals, CrowdStrike found.
The health care industry “faces a significant threat from criminal groups deploying ransomware, the consequences of which can include the disruption of critical care facilities,” the report said. “Along with the possibility of significant disruption to critical functions, victims face a secondary threat from ransomware operations that exfiltrate data prior to the execution of the ransomware.”