FBI says it averted cyberattack on children’s hospital

The agency alleges that the Iranian government sponsored the hackers.

WASHINGTON — The FBI foiled a planned cyberattack on a children’s hospital in Boston that was to be carried out by Iranian government-sponsored hackers, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday.

Wray told a cybersecurity conference at Boston College that his agents learned of the planned digital attack from an unspecified intelligence partner and obtained the information he needed from Boston Children’s Hospital. last summer to block what would have been “one of the most despicable cyberattacks I’ve seen”. ”

“And the quick actions of everyone involved, especially at the hospital, protected both the network and the sick children who depended on it,” Wray said.

The FBI chief told this anecdote in a larger discourse on cyber threats from Russia, China and Iran, and the need for partnerships between the US government and the private sector.

He said the office and Boston Children’s Hospital worked closely together after a hacktivist attacked the hospital’s computer network in 2014. Martin Gottesfeld launched a cyberattack on the hospital to protest medical care. a teenager at the center of a high-profile custody battle; Gottesfeld was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. The attack on the hospital and a treatment home cost the facilities tens of thousands of dollars and disrupted operations for days.

“Children’s and our Boston office already knew each other well — before Iran’s attack — and that made a difference,” Wray said.

He did not attribute any particular motive to the planned attack on the hospital, but he did note that Iran and other countries had hired cybermercenaries to carry out attacks on their behalf. In addition, the healthcare and public health sector is classified by the US government as one of 16 critical infrastructure sectors, and healthcare providers such as hospitals are considered ripe targets for the Pirates.

With respect to Russia, he said, the FBI is “rushing” to warn potential targets of preparatory actions hackers are taking for destructive attacks. In March, for example, the FBI warned that it was seeing increased hacker interest in energy companies since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Chinese hackers have stolen more corporate and personal data from the United States than all other countries combined, as part of a larger geopolitical goal of “lying, cheating, and hacking their way into the global naming of global sectors,” Wray said.

The speech came as the FBI continues to grapple with ransomware attacks by criminal gangs, an ongoing concern for US officials despite the absence of crippling intrusions in recent months.

Wray stressed the need for private companies to work with the FBI to thwart ransomware gangs and nation-state hackers.

“What these partnerships allow us to do is hit our adversaries at every turn – from victims’ networks to hackers’ own computers,” Wray said.

The FBI and other federal agencies work to assure hacking victims that it is in their best interest to report intrusions and cyber crimes. Many companies attacked by ransomware gangs often do not approach the FBI for various reasons.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a report this year criticizing the FBI’s response to some ransomware victims. In two cases, the FBI “prioritized its investigative and prosecutorial efforts to disrupt the attackers’ operations over the victims’ need to protect data and mitigate harm,” the report said.

An anonymous Fortune 500 company told committee staff that the FBI offered no “helpful assistance” in responding to a ransomware attack.

Wray, however, cited the FBI’s ability to dispatch a technically trained agent to any victimized business within an hour – “and we use that a lot.”

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