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Top European official warns China against targeting hospitals with cyberattacks

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday that she warned Chinese President Xi Jinping against hacking European hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have seen cyberattacks on hospitals and dedicated computing centers. Likewise, we’ve seen a rise in online disinformation, and we pointed out clearly that this cannot be tolerated,” von der Leyen told reporters Monday.

Von der Leyen’s remarks were made following the EU-China Summit that took place virtually on Monday and came in the midst of international tensions over the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Participants in the summit included Xi, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, European Council President Charles Michel and EU High Representative Josep Borrell.

Hospitals around the world have become targets of cyberattacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular from ransomware attacks, where the attacker locks up a network and demands payment to allow access again.

The second-largest hospital in the Czech Republic was the victim of a cyberattack in March, while the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District in Illinois had its website taken down by hackers that same month. 

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI put out a joint alert last month warning that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting U.S. groups involved in COVID-19 research.

Interpol, an international police organization, warned hospitals and other groups involved in fighting COVID-19 of ransomware threats in April, specifically that cyber criminals were preventing hospitals from accessing patient records until the ransom was paid.

Major health agencies have also been targeted by cyber criminals over the past few months, including the World Health Organization and the Department of Health and Human Services.


While China has not been implicated in many of these attacks, it is regarded by experts as one of the most dangerous nation-states in cyberspace, alongside Russia, North Korea and Iran. 

Von der Leyen noted that beyond cybersecurity threats, she had also raised the topics of digital transformation and trade, noting that the “discussions were both intense and wide-ranging.”

“The relationship between the EU and China is both one of the most strategically important and one of the most challenging ones that we have,” von der Leyen said.

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