FBI & DHS warn of ‘imminent cybercrime threat to US HOSPITALS,’ sending media into overdrive to blame ‘Russian hackers’

FBI & DHS warn of ‘imminent cybercrime threat to US HOSPITALS,’ sending media into overdrive to blame ‘Russian hackers’

The FBI, DHS and other federal agencies issued a joint statement on Wednesday sounding alarms over the “imminent” hacking operations, assessing that “malicious cyber actors are targeting the [Healthcare and Public Health] Sector with Trickbot malware, often leading to ransomware attacks, data theft, and the disruption of healthcare services.”

These issues will be particularly challenging for organizations within the Covid-19 pandemic; therefore, administrators will need to balance this risk when determining their cybersecurity investments.

While the official alert – based on “credible information” – gave no indication of who might be responsible for the possible hacks, only generically referring to a “cybercriminal enterprise,” mainstream news agencies wasted no time before finding Russian fingerprints all over the alleged scheme. Major outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press confidently declared that “Russian hackers,” or “Russian-speaking criminals,” were the culprits. But despite the appearance of corroboration, all three reports rely on the same cyber expert – Alex Holden of Hold Security – whose claims of Russian involvement were relayed without evidence.

The AP’s report acknowledges that “no provable ties” to Moscow had been established, but it nonetheless quotes Holden as saying “I absolutely have no doubt that the Russian government is aware of this operation – of terrorism, really.” How he arrived at that conclusion, however, is left a mystery. The Post similarly pinned the attacks on “Russian-speaking criminals” in its headline, but leaves that allegation entirely unsourced.

Holden also sagely informed the Times that the hackers typically demand a 10-percent cut of victims’ earnings, which he compared to an “old Russian tradition to give 10 percent of annual revenue to the church” – apparently referring to tithing, an ancient practice observed by Christian churches all over the world with no particular relation to Russia. Perhaps Holden’s most dubious attempt to link the cyber attacks to Russians, the Times relegated the quote to the twenty-second paragraph of its story.

A number of pundits took some artistic license when tweeting out the story, with one NBC contributor and former assistant director to the FBI Frank Figliuzzi telling his followers the hacks are “Russia-based.” One-time HuffPost writer Andrea Chalupa also stated that “Russia is attacking hundreds of hospitals across the US,” reporting alleged Kremlin involvement as flat fact.

Claims of Russian hacking have proliferated in the US corporate press since the 2016 presidential election, originating with the campaign of failed Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton, which first asserted a Kremlin operation to steal emails from Clinton, her staff and the Democratic National Committee in order to help Donald Trump win the race.

The allegation was later upheld by US intelligence officials, though the FBI never took hold of the DNC’s servers itself, instead relying on “forensic” information provided by the DNC’s cybersecurity firm, CrowdStrike. The company’s president, however, told a House hearing in 2017 that “there’s no evidence that [the emails] were actually exfiltrated,” leaving the claim largely without backing. The theory has nonetheless refused to die, with dire warnings of Russian hackers and election-meddling enduring into the 2020 race, and likely beyond.

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