‘It’s a shame the feds aren’t helping us more’ against cyberattacks | #ransomware | #cybercrime

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The March 10 editorial “A cyber warning for health care,” about the effects of hacking that targeted a UnitedHealth-owned company, Change Healthcare, which handles claims and related financial transactions, ended with the statement, “This crisis will pass.”

The crisis is only beginning. Between 2016 and 2021, ransomware attacks on health care providers doubled. University of Minnesota researchers recently reported a 21% increase in mortality during ransomware attacks on hospitals. The federal government has done nothing to stop these attacks other than calling for voluntary actions by health care systems.

“[W]hat will be remembered long afterward is how United rose to the challenge of helping those affected by the cyberattack,” the editorial continues. The editorial and many hospitals are critical of the three-week pause in payments. Contrast that with an article in the same issue of the paper describing Hurricane Ian’s massive destruction of Fort Myers, Fla. The city is still cleaning up 22 months later. The cyberattack was just as destructive as the hurricane; the critics naively underestimate the massive damage that must be repaired.

In three weeks, United opened alternative systems for payment. Recently, National Public Radio interviewed Aaron Miri, the chief digital and information officer at Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Fla. He was already using the unaffected digital services at United. The editorial featured Karin Olson, a diabetic patient caught by the attack, whose problem was resolved. The attack injured thousands, but fortunately United has the resources to move quickly to a resolution.

“There’s work yet to do,” the editorial ended. Yes, but the work belongs to the federal government, not United alone, as the editorial implied. The Space Force, a military branch, is charged with defending our country from cyberattacks. Attacks on our health care systems are acts of terrorism or criminal activity, a key responsibility of the Justice Department. The attackers are known, the ALPHV/BlackCat cybergang, and their banking sites have been identified. Why is the government not counterattacking by freezing assets or launching their own cyberattacks against these entities?

Miri summarized the right issue in his NPR interview: “It’s a shame the feds aren’t helping us more. You’d think if our nuclear infrastructure were under attack the feds would respond with more gusto.”

Criticizing the victim in the editorial deflects attention from the real problem. Cyberattackers are today’s pirates. The country would be safer is attackers knew there would be swift government retaliation for their actions.

Dr. Lee Newcomer, of Wayzata, is a retired physician.

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