The heroic, nonstop work of our nation’s hospitals and health systems, physicians, caregivers and staff continues across the country, as care teams race to treat patients affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and make every effort to contain its spread. To learn more on this important topic, I encourage you to read AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack’s March 20 Perspective.  

But a second critical battle also is underway: blocking attempts by cyber criminals seeking to exploit our current situation for financial gain or worse, the interruption of patient care.

These can take many forms, including “ransomware” that locks up computer networks unless extortion is paid, and sophisticated phishing emails containing malware that can divert hospitals’ payments to a criminal’s account. Among the most dangerous are the cyberattacks that can render ventilators and other essential life-support medical devices inoperable.

The AHA is monitoring government bulletins and threat information, and sharing information from the field. Hospitals and health systems must recognize mitigating cyber risk that can affect patient care and safety is among their highest priorities.  

Here are a few things you can do: 

For life-saving medical devices, ensure effective coordination between clinical engineering and information security teams; maintain accurate inventory of devices; and check update and patch status of all software and firmware contained within the devices. For those devices which remain vulnerable, disconnect or segment them from main networks. 

To protect against phishing emails containing malware, implement staff awareness and education, including routine phishing tests. 
For more information, see the recent article by John Riggi, AHA senior advisor for cyber and risk. AHA will continue to bring you resources and information on ways to protect your information systems and guard patient health. If you have specific questions, please contact Riggi at

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