Oct. 29 (UPI) -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal authorities say a surge in cybercrime is beginning to focus on hospitals and health providers nationwide, at a time when many are already overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Authorities detailed the rising threat in a report Wednesday compiled by the FBI, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Department of Health and Human Services.
The assessment says the rapid increase of ransomware attacks, which have targeted various government operations over the past year, use malware that makes it virtually impossible for victims to recover data.
"CISA, FBI, and HHS have credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers," the agencies said.
"[We] are sharing this information to provide warnings to healthcare providers to ensure that they take timely and reasonable precautions to protect their networks from these threats."
The assessment said hackers are using a tool called "Trickbot," a malicious software that's embedded in emails and designed to fool recipients into clicking through to a link that installs the malware.
The agencies said these attacks are more dangerous now due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, when displacement from healthcare could be deadly for untold numbers of patients.
The federal authorities advise several recommendations to help healthcare organizations and businesses guard against the heightened threat -- including joining data-sharing organizations, backing up records, updating security software and forming response plans.
"Ransomware attacks on our healthcare system may be the most dangerous cybersecurity threat we've ever seen in the United States," said Charles Carmakal, senior vice president and chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm Mandiant.
Carmakal said an Eastern European hacking ring called UNC1878 is the latest major group to emerge as a threat to potential U.S. targets.