FBI reportedly thwarted Iran-based cyber attack against Boston Children’s Hospital

FBI Director Christopher Wray announced the bureau was able to thwart a cyberattack in the summer of 2021 that targeted the network of Boston Children’s Hospital.

The director said that Iran-backed hackers were about to execute “one of the most despicable cyberattacks” he’s ever seen.

Wray spoke about the operation on Wednesday at the annual Boston Conference on Cyber Security.

“In the summer of 2021, hackers sponsored by the Iranian government tried to conduct one of the most despicable cyberattacks I’ve ever seen right here in Boston when they decided to go after Boston Children’s Hospital,” Wray said.

(Video: NBC 10 Boston)

“We got a report from one of our intelligence partners indicating Boston Children’s was about to be targeted, and understanding the urgency of the situation, the cyber squad in our Boston Field Office raced out to notify the hospital,” he explained.

“Our folks got the hospital’s team the information they needed to stop the danger right away. And we were able to help them ID and then mitigate the threat. And quick actions by everyone involved, especially at the hospital, protected both the network and the sick kids who depended on it.”

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

He continued, “If malicious cyber actors are going to purposefully cause destruction or are going to hold data and systems for ransom, they tend to hit us somewhere that’s going to hurt. That’s why we’ve increasingly seen cybercriminals using ransomware against U.S. critical infrastructure sectors.”

“Ransomware gangs love to go after things we can’t do without,” he remarked.

He explained that cybercriminals tend to use ransomware in their schemes, and he observed that in 2021, 14 of the 16 critical U.S. sectors were targeted – the health care industry among them.

In the case of Boston Children’s Hospital, both the FBI and the hospital used the experience gained from a 2014 cyberattack executed by Martin Gottesfeld who was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison after he used his hacking skills to protest the treatment of a teenager who was the subject of a high-profile custody battle. The attack disrupted operations for several days and cost the hospital tens of thousands of dollars.

The energy sector has also been a target for cybercriminals. Last year, Colonial Pipeline was hit by a ransomware attack that forced it to shut down for a week.

Adam Flatley, director of threat intelligence at the cyber defense firm Redacted, believes that the government and private sector should “bring tangible consequences to the threat actors.”

“Their ability to operate with impunity is what makes them powerful and to continue to harm innocents around the world. We’ve seen ransomware actors targeting multiple children’s hospitals over the past year,” Flatley said in a statement to The Hill.

During his speech, Wray pointed to Russia and China as significant actors in the realm of cyberattacks. Russia, he said, tends to target critical infrastructure, while China is inclined to target financial systems or areas of national security interests.

“China is clearly a very different threat than Russia,” Wray said. “The Chinese government is methodical, hacking in support of long-term economic goals.”

He added, “China operates on a scale Russia doesn’t come close to. They’ve got a bigger hacking program than all other major nations combined.”

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