The World Health Organization and the CyberPeace Institute are joining forces to shed light on the real life impact of malicious practices in cyberspace that are endangering human life.
The healthcare sector, already under stress due to COVID-19, is facing a multifaceted threat landscape that is diminishing its ability to successfully respond to the pandemic. An onslaught of mis/disinformation, combined with the conspiracy theories and the delegitimization of science, or an “infodemic”, is being used by malicious actors to erode trust in the healthcare sector, vaccines, and even question the validity of the virus, while an increase in cyberattacks targeting hospitals and other portions of the sector hampers their ability to provide quality care and allocate resources.
Although these two threats differ in their scope and level of impact, with one directly targeting specific targets while the other seeps across an entire society, their combination is undermining the global endeavor to address and stop COVID-19, and in some cases actively contributing to its spread. Together this dual threat poses a direct peril to human life.
Mis/disinformation has the potential to devalue official information, causing gaps in testing and subverting the effectiveness of immunization campaigns leading to unnecessary deaths as the actions encouraged by the infodemic endanger countries’ ability to stop the pandemic.
Meanwhile, during September 2020 only, we saw the paralysis of 250 hospitals run by Universal Health Services (UHS) in the United States that lasted for over 3 weeks, as well as a ransomware attack on a Duesseldorf University Clinic, that prompted an investigation into “negligent homicide” to probe the link between the tragic death of an at risk patient and the attack. While the healthcare sector has long been at risk of cyberattacks, the harms to human security are heightened during health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and the parallel infodemic.
In this acute moment, people around the world are particularly reliant on health services and accurate health information, and increasing societal mistrust of public health leads to greater death and disability. Cyber operations that disrupt healthcare, either directly through attacks on healthcare infrastructure or indirectly by delegitimizing health information, are a direct threat to human security, which is vital to cyberpeace and stopping the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Cyberpeace Institute and the World Health Organization are organizing this first webinar, to jointly explore the intersection of health security and cyberspace. “We hope to learn from our distinguished speakers and experts not only the dimensions and public health impact of the misuse of information technology, but also gain some insights into how the public health community and cyberpeace communities can join forces to limit the harm that misuse causes and promote a better global cyber-health environment,” said Dr Matthew Lim, Unit Head, Biosecurity and Health Security Interface, World Health Organization