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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.

Mike Allen, author of AM
28 mins ago - World

Airbnb doubles number of Afghan refugees it will house to 40,000

Afghan refugees arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in August 2021. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and co-founder Joe Gebbia said during a visit to Washington on Wednesday that they're offering temporary housing to 40,000 Afghan refugees worldwide, doubling a previous commitment.

The big picture: The housing typically lasts several weeks, and Airbnb and Airbnb.org provide subsidies to hosts.

Florida lawmaker introduces abortion bill modeled after Texas law

A view of the old Florida Capitol building, which sits in front of the current new Capitol building, in Tallahassee. Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

A Florida lawmaker introduced a bill Wednesday modeled after Texas' new law prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or roughly six weeks — before many people know they are pregnant.

Why it matters: Similar bills introduced to the Florida legislature have failed, but that was before the Supreme Court declined to block Texas' law, which is the most restrictive abortion law to be enforced since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, according to AP.