'Hackers Are Exploiting the Coronavirus to Attack Hospitals'

Over the last several months cybercriminals have targeted hospitals with computer viruses - this Israeli company has created the specific tech needed to stop them

Sagi Cohen
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An Israeli EMT in full protective gear stands by an ambulance at Shaare Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, September 8, 2020.
An Israeli EMT in full protective gear stands by an ambulance at Shaare Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, September 8, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Sagi Cohen

As the coronavirus continues to push public health institutions to their limits, the Israeli company Medigate, which deals with cybersecurity for medical devices, has announced a new round of fundraising, banking on the key role their systems can play in defending hospitals. The firm is raising $30 million brining the total amount raised by Medigate so far stands at $50 million.

Medigate has developed a system for hospitals and health organizations which can manage and protect medical devices from cyberattacks.

According to Reuters, over the last several months cybercriminals have targeted hospitals with computer viruses, usually in schemes to extort them or hold their data ransom. More sophisticated hacking groups, such as those associated with governments, have also targeted medical research centers to steal valuable data about COVID-19 treatments.

The Red Cross in May even called for an end to cyberattacks on healthcare and medical research facilities during the coronavirus pandemic. Such attacks, the Red Cross said, endanger human lives and governments must take “immediate and decisive action” to stop them.

In conversation with TheMarker, CEO Jonathan Langer describes the main types of cyberattacks on hospitals. These include ransom attacks that lock computers and medical devices until payment is made (such as the famous WannaCry attack in 2017, which hurt British hospitals); other attacks try to steal digital medical records of patients. “There is medical and personal information there, a precious product for attackers”, says Langer.

Medical staff at a coronavirus ward in a hospital in central Israel, August 20, 2020.
Medical staff at a coronavirus ward in a hospital in central Israel, August 20, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Langer says that during the coronavirus crisis there has been an increase in cyberattacks, including on hospitals. “Hackers are exploiting the confusion prevailing in hospitals” says Langer. “People are busy, lots of things are happening with many changes taking place. Attackers see the total mess and take advantage of the situation.”

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A major problem in the cyber defense of hospitals is the diversity of different devices they employ. Medical devices are riddled with potential security breaches, at many times using operating systems or software that are outdated. Many times, it is difficult to provide protection from the different medical systems directly. 

The regular methods usually used by hospitals to protect their information usually includes using an internal network, usually supplied by companies such as Check Point, Cisco, Palo Alto and others. These internal systems have difficulties in identifying specific attacks on the different devices which feed information into it. 

What Medigare’s technology does is augment the internal cyber-protection network with defenses specifically made for medical equipment. The company’s technology knows how to identify devices that are connected to the hospital’s network and take into account the differences in the medical procedures associated with these devices. In this way, it can deal with cyber threats without hindering the functionality of this equipment or disrupting medical procedures. Furthermore, the company says that its solution also enables medical organizations to analyze data collected by these devices in a way that was previously impossible, thus also enhancing their effectiveness and cutting costs.

Medigate was established in 2017 by Langer, Itay Kirschenbaum (VP of Research and Development) and Pini Pinhasov (VP of Product). The company employs 90 people, 60 of them in Israel and the rest around the world, mainly at its sales center in New York. Following the current investment, the company is expected to recruit workers for its research and development center in Tel Aviv.

Medigate founders tay Kirshenbaum (R), Jonathan Langer (C) and Pini Pinhasov
Medigate founders tay Kirshenbaum (R), Jonathan Langer (C) and Pini PinhasovCredit: Medigate

According to Langer, “the company is enjoying good revenues that are untypical of this area.” He says that their system is deployed in hundreds of hospitals around the world, mainly in the US. Their business model is to sell annual user licenses on their SaaS (Software as a service) platform. The company is competing with cyber companies that focus on health affairs, such as CyberMDX, or cyber companies for the internet of things, such as Armis Security, Palo Alto and others.

A major challenge that will face the company in the future is the consolidation of the cyber world. Big organizations are now hesitating to buy a range of products from start-up companies, preferring to purchase one cyber system that includes diverse solutions. Langer is not worried that this may adversely affect his company.

“Cyber solutions for the world of medicine rely on deep technology. There are hundreds of companies making medical devices, each one with its own protocol. A hospital is a communications jungle. If you interfere with a doctor’s work you cause great damage. That’s why the technology required to meet this challenge is deep and precise. There is room for our category, and the market accepts this.”

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