9 medical centers said to have been targeted

Multiple cyberattack attempts on Israeli hospitals thwarted, officials say

National Cyber Directorate and Health Ministry say ‘early assessments and a quick response’ stopped the attacks over weekend; Hillel Yaffe’s systems still being restored

Illustrative image: Shaare Zedek hospital staff wear safety gear as they work in a coronavirus ward, in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative image: Shaare Zedek hospital staff wear safety gear as they work in a coronavirus ward, in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A wave of attempted cyberattacks targeting Israeli hospitals and health centers were thwarted over the weekend, the National Cyber Directorate and Health Ministry announced Sunday.

“Early assessments and a quick response from the directorate and staff on the ground halted the attempts and no damage was caused,” the joint statement said.

The directorate said nine hospitals and health institutions were the targets, according to Hebrew-language media reports. It was not immediately clear what type of cyberattacks were attempted, or who may have been behind them.

The directorate and the Health Ministry also said that in recent days they have been acting to “strengthen the level of [cyber] protection while identifying new vulnerabilities” in the health sector.

The attempted attacks over the weekend came after the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera was hit with a major ransomware cyberattack last week, crippling systems that could take months to recover.

Sunday’s joint statement said the ministry and directorate were still working to restore Hillel Yaffe’s systems “gradually and securely, as soon as possible.” Some non-urgent procedures were canceled  as a result of the attack, but most of the hospital’s work is continuing, using alternative IT systems and with pen and paper.

A ward at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center on October 14, 2021, as staff try to. manage without regular IT systems (courtesy of Hillel Yaffe Medical Center)

A ransomware attack involves breaking into an entity’s networks to encrypt its data, then demanding a ransom, typically paid via cryptocurrency in exchange for the digital key, to unlock it. But as a government hospital, Hillel Yaffe was barred from paying any ransom, according to Channel 12 news.

Last week, the National Cyber Directorate also issued a general warning to Israeli businesses to be aware of potential cyberattacks, as the country faces an uptick in hacking attempts.

New data released Thursday suggested that Israel was the country most affected by ransomware since 2020.

Last week, Microsoft said that it had identified a group of Iranian hackers using the tech giant’s products to target Israeli and American defense technology companies as well as firms running maritime shipping in the Middle East.

Separately, Google warned of a surge in state-backed hackers, with a report focusing on the “notable campaigns” of a group linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Numerous suspected Iranian cyberattacks on Israel were reported in recent years, including one that targeted its water infrastructure in 2020. Israel and Iran have been engaged in a years-long shadow war, with Israel allegedly directing most of its efforts — including multiple suspected cyberattacks — at sabotaging the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

In this October 8, 2019 file photo, a woman types on a keyboard in New York. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

In July, cybersecurity firm Check Point reported that Israeli institutions are targeted by about twice as many cyberattacks as the average in other countries around the world, particularly the country’s health sector, which experiences an average of 1,443 attacks a week.

The most targeted sectors around the world, including in Israel, are education and research, followed by government and security organizations, and then health institutions, Check Point said. The report found that, on average, one in every 60 Israeli organizations or firms is targeted every week with ransomware attacks, an increase of 30% over the rate in 2020.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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