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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A tsunami of ransomware attacks has hit U.S. hospitals in Vermont, New York, Oregon and likely other states, with U.S. officials warning that there is “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers” across the country, according to a recent CISA, FBI and HHS bulletin.

Why it matters: The decision by cyber criminals to launch a large-scale campaign attacking hospitals represents a shocking escalation by these groups, and it shows how unbound by moral considerations they are when selecting their targets.

Details: “As many as 20 medical facilities” have already been affected by these attacks, according to NBC News.

  • The ransomware attacks are believed to have been perpetrated by the Russian-speaking group of cyber criminals that operates the “TrickBot” botnet, the world’s largest. A botnet is a group of hijacked computers that have been repurposed for malicious ends.

Background: Last month, the U.S. military’s Cyber Command temporarily degraded the TrickBot network. In a related action, Microsoft also attempted to disrupt this cyber criminal group’s activities.

The big picture: These ransomware attacks, which encrypt victims’ data unless they pay a fee to get it back, are occurring as medical facilities across the country are being overwhelmed with new hospitalizations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Some affected hospitals have lost access to their digital records, slowing down basic administrative tasks and creating backlogs. In an Oregon hospital, surgeries and some cancer treatments have been delayed because of the attacks.

The bottom line: Ransomware-wielding cyber criminals represent "the most significant cyber threat that we’ve experienced in the US to date," Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, told Wired.

Go deeper

In cyber espionage, U.S. is both hunted and hunter

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American outrage over foreign cyber espionage, like Russia's SolarWinds hack, obscures the uncomfortable reality that the U.S. secretly does just the same thing to other countries.

Why it matters: Secrecy is often necessary in cyber spying to protect sources and methods, preserve strategic edges that may stem from purloined information, and prevent diplomatic incidents.

The ransomware pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"We are on the cusp of a global pandemic," said Christopher Krebs, the first director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in Congressional testimony last week. The virus causing the pandemic isn't biological, however. It's software.

Why it matters: Crippling a major U.S. oil pipeline this weekend initially looked like an act of war — but it's now looking like an increasingly normal crime, bought off-the-shelf from a "ransomware as a service" provider known as DarkSide.

Hollywood's wakeup call

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Decades of failures around diversity and inclusion finally caught up with Hollywood Monday, when NBC made the unprecedented decision not to air the Golden Globes next year following backlash against the group that hosts the show.

Why it matters: NBC has been airing the event exclusively for decades. Its decision to pull back speaks to how big the backlash against the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) has become.