Czechs on alert over hospital cyberattacks

FILE PHOTO: A hooded man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic’s cyber-security watchdog warned of possible cyberattacks on hospitals on Thursday as the central European country’s health ministry said it had already thwarted some smaller-scale hack attempts.

“The information we have available has led us to a reasonable fear of a real threat of serious cyberattacks on major targets in the Czech Republic, especially on healthcare systems,” the cyber watchdog NUKIB’s Director Karel Rehka said.

The warning comes as the country works to stay ahead of the new coronavirus outbreak to keep strain off the healthcare sector. The government was swift with measures virtually locking down the country when the first cases of the new coronavirus appeared at the start of March.

It has reported 6,359 cases and has stabilised the growth rate of new cases. The government is starting to ease some restrictions that have shut businesses and limited people’s movement to essential shopping, work or family visits.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech told senators on Thursday that hackers had tried attacks on several hospitals and the ministry but had been detected. He added the intensity of attacks would likely grow, according to CTK news agency.

NUKIB, in its warning, also said some early attacks were under away in a preparatory phase, including spear phishing campaigns.

NUKIB’s warning means the country’s critical infrastructure operators were obliged to address the threats and take action.

The agency was thrust into the spotlight in December 2018 when it warned about possible security risks posed by Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei, becoming one of the first to do so just as Europe begin serious debate on the issue.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Lisa Shumaker