Peters calls on White House to protect health care systems from cyber threats

U.S. Sen. Gary C. Peters, D-Mich., asks questions during the confirmation hearing of U.S. Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., July 16, 2019. Esper was nominated for Secretary of Defense by President Donald J. Trump on July 15, 2019. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith) 

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) at a 2019 confirmation hearing. (Photo credit: U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/DOD photo)

The top Democrat on a Senate panel overseeing the federal government's cybersecurity defenses is again calling on President Donald Trump to begin "utilizing all levers of national power" to deter adversarial nations from attacking the country's health care systems.

In a Nov. 19 letter, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), ranking member on the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, cites attacks sponsored by the Chinese, Russian and North Korean governments on U.S. health care organizations working to develop vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus. The new letter echoes a similar one Peters sent earlier this year.

"I am angered by these government sponsored cyber-attacks and your lack of action to deter them over the past months," the senator wrote, adding that Trump this week ousted several top officials at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

"I urge you, again, to send a strong message to any foreign government attempting to hack into our medical institutions that this behavior is unacceptable," he continued.

Peters' letter requests the White House to direct CISA and U.S. Cyber Command to prioritize supporting hospitals and medical research institutions by providing risk and vulnerability assessments as well as sharing relevant threat intelligence.

He also calls on Trump to direct Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to prioritize "information technology appropriations towards improvements in cybersecurity" and work with the Government Accountability Office and the department's inspector general to improve its cybersecurity.

The White House should be "utilizing all levers of national power – diplomatic, military, economic, and law enforcement – to deter adversary governments from any attacks against U.S. health care system and make clear that any attack on our medical systems will be treated as a significant threat to our country," Peters wrote.

Microsoft, which has assisted the federal government in monitoring cybersecurity threats, has said it detected attacks from a Russian-based actor it dubbed "Strontium" and two North Korean actors it calls "Zinc and Cerium."

"Among the targets, the majority are vaccine makers that have Covid-19 vaccines in various stages of clinical trials. One is a clinical research organization involved in trials, and one has developed a Covid-19 test. Multiple organizations targeted have contracts with or investments from government agencies from various democratic countries for Covid-19 related work," according to a Nov. 13 blog post Microsoft published by one of its executives, Tom Burt.

Burt wrote that Strontium used "password spray and brute force login attempts" to steal credentials while Zinc and Cerium primarily tried spear phishing lures, posing as job recruiters or World Health Organization representatives.

About the Author

Justin Katz is a former staff writer at FCW.


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