Our health care system is under siege.

In September, I wrote about a cyberattack on a German hospital that may have caused a woman’s death.

Now, hospitals across Michigan, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin have been hit by a devastating ransomware attack.

Cybercriminals shut down the computer networks at the affected hospitals, forcing doctors and staff to rely on paper records.

The criminals demanded bitcoin as payment to restore the networks, as the cryptocurrency is essentially untraceable.

Fortunately, there aren’t yet any reports of American patients dying because of cybercrime. But it’s clear that the assaults on our health care system are only getting worse.

According to cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, there were 50 reported health care ransomware attacks in 2019. But so far in 2020, there have been 62 such attacks.

Read on to find out how cybercriminals are taking over hospitals, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Phishing Scams Are on the Rise

The cybercriminals’ plan is simple but effective.

First, they send an email to hospital employees that looks like an important work email.

Next, someone clicks on a link in the email. That downloads the ransomware to their personal computer.

Finally, the ransomware spreads from hospital to hospital until the criminals have gained control of the entire computer network.

This kind of scheme, where a cybercriminal tricks someone into clicking on a link or file attachment, is called phishing.

Phishing is on the rise. A new study by Interisle Consulting shows that fake phishing websites have dramatically increased in number since 2015:

The FBI recorded over $3.5 billion in losses for individuals and businesses in 2019 due to cybercriminals.

The study tracked over 122,000 phishing attacks just from May through July this year. And the Better Business Bureau and the Identity Theft Resource Center recently warned Americans about a surge of election-related phishing scams.

How to Protect Yourself From Cybercriminals

The FBI recorded over $3.5 billion in losses for individuals and businesses in 2019 due to online scams such as phishing attacks.

Here are some important tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on how to protect yourself:

  • Scammers often try to impersonate a bank, credit card company or other business you use. If you get an urgent email like this, don’t click on any links or download any attachments. Instead, you should call the company or contact it through its website.
  • Scammers will often demand sensitive personal information. Be careful not to share things like your Social Security number and driver’s license number, which could be used to steal your identity.
  • Some scammers will try to trick you into giving them your account’s username and password. You can use multifactor authentication such as a text message passcode or a fingerprint scan to make it harder for them to log into your account.
  • If you clicked on a suspicious link or downloaded a strange attachment, update your computer’s security software and immediately run a scan.

And if you think a scammer might have gotten ahold of your personal information, don’t panic. The FTC has a checklist with the specific steps to take based on the information you lost.

You can also report the situation to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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Jay Goldberg

Assistant Managing Editor, Banyan Hill Publishing