Cyber attacks have increased by 150% in the healthcare sector over the last two months as criminals seek to take advantage of system vulnerabilities during the Covid-19 crisis, according to new industry partnership the C5 Alliance.

On 13 March, Brno University Hospital in the Czech Republic, which is responsible for running tests for Covid-19 in the country, was hit by a cyber attack that forced the hospital to shut down its IT network.

Cybersecurity investment firm C5 Capital has created an alliance of leading cybersecurity companies to tackle issues arising from the pandemic.

The C5 Alliance – which includes cyber firms such as IronNet, ITC Secure, Haven Cyber Technologies, Enveil, 4iQ and Blue Cedar – will provide hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities in the UK and Europe free access to its IronDome system.

IronDome, based on IronNet’s collective defence solution, is the industry’s first collective crowd sourcing defence product. It takes the behavioural intelligence derived from cyber anomalies and shares it across an industry sector to deliver machine-speed visibility of potential threat campaigns.

C5 Capital hopes the initiative will help ensure hospitals and clinics protect their internal systems and databases for patients, healthcare workers and volunteers. It will also enable pharmaceutical research and development facilities to safeguard their work while developing a vaccine to prevent transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

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C5 Capital founder Andre Pienaar said: “Healthcare companies and organisations are facing growing threats, as seen with the NHS attacks in 2017. Now with the Covid-19 crisis they are facing an unprecedented assault from cyberattacks.

“This initiative takes immediate action in helping to protect health services in the UK and Europe in the best way possible, with the knowledge of some of the world’s best cybersecurity experts.”

The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has said that phishing emails with links claiming to have important coronavirus-related updates are circulating, which once clicked on lead to devices being infected.

On 16 February the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of fraudulent emails being sent by criminals posing as the WHO. Cybercriminals have also been impersonating the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by creating domain names similar to the CDC’s web address to request passwords and even bitcoin donations to fund a fake vaccine.

These attempts have been seen in several countries and can lead to loss of money and sensitive data.

NCSC director of operations Paul Chichester said: “We know that cyber criminals are opportunistic and will look to exploit people’s fears, and this has undoubtedly been the case with the coronavirus outbreak.”