Microsoft offering free cybersecurity services to protect health groups from hackers

Microsoft on Tuesday announced it would offer free cybersecurity protection tools to health care, humanitarian and human rights groups around the world following a spike in attempted hacking attempts due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The company will offer groups around the world free access to its AccountGuard threat notification program, which alerts users to malicious emails that may be attempts at stealing personal information or hack into systems. The program will be available for use by health care and human rights groups until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. 

The AccountGuard program was previously offered for free by Microsoft to all candidates and their campaigns running for federal, state or local offices in the United States. 

“Every patient deserves the best possible healthcare treatment, and we all need to thank and applaud the truly heroic work by those risking their own health to help those who are sick,” Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Customer Security and Trust, wrote in a blog post about the announcement. “Their work is challenging enough but is being made more difficult by cyberattacks, now or in the future.”

The announcement was made following weeks of reports that health care organizations, including hospitals and leading agencies, were under increasing attack by hackers. 

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) were the victims of attempted cyberattacks in March. 

The hospital system in Paris and computer networks in Spain were recently targeted by hackers, while the second-largest hospital in the Czech Republic that was responsible for running coronavirus tests had operations interrupted by a successful cyberattack.

Burt emphasized that Microsoft hoped the increased access to the AccountGuard tool would help halt cyberattacks by nation states, in particular those on human rights and humanitarian organizations that assist during times of crisis, such as providing meals to the hungry or supporting hospitals in conflict zones. 

Burt said Microsoft had tracked five separate nation state groups attempting to target email accounts of employees at almost a dozen human rights organizations more than 900 times just in the last year. 

“While cybersecurity threats are not new to human rights defenders, these groups have been increasingly under attack, even before the pandemic arose,” Burt wrote. “Protecting these organizations has never been more important.”

The program will initially be available in 29 countries, with Microsoft planning to expand to others depending on needs and local legal restrictions.

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