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Ensuring Cybersecurity for Critical Civilian Infrastructure

Although the world has long needed a more systematic approach to cybersecurity, the issue has come to the fore as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that cyberattacks are increasingly targeting health facilities underscores the need for a rapid, concerted policy response.

STANFORD – The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that nurses, doctors, and other health-care workers not only play an essential role in keeping us safe and healthy, but also sometimes must risk their own lives and health to do so. Throughout the crisis, they have rightly been applauded for their sacrifices. But to ensure that they are fully supported in doing their jobs, we also must recognize the importance of the technologies that underpin the modern health-care system. We don’t have to applaud software, but we do need to ensure that it is resilient against external threats.

Cybersecurity is crucial for protecting vulnerable communities, and health-care workers are no exception. In addition to the challenges they face working overtime to help COVID-19 patients, they also must confront ruthless cyberattacks, just when they have the least bandwidth to defend themselves. Using both large-scale ransomware campaigns and highly sophisticated targeting techniques, hackers are singling out hospitals, medical facilities, and vaccine laboratories. Over the past two months, such attacks have occurred every three days.

We must do more to protect vulnerable communities wherever they are under attack, understand attackers’ motives and methods, and push for better legal protections and more responsible behavior online. If criminals or hostile states were threatening health-care workers with physical weapons, the outcry would be immediate and deafening. So why have we not seen a similar reaction to these cyberattacks?