‘The Situation Is Very Serious’: Ransomware Hackers Hobble Covid-19 Vaccinations in Italy

‘The Situation Is Very Serious’: Ransomware Hackers Hobble Covid-19 Vaccinations in Italy
Photo: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP, Getty Images

A series of cyberattacks has disrupted COVID-19 vaccinations in Italy’s Lazio region — a large area that encompasses the nation’s capital, Rome.

The attacks, which appear to have been launched by hackers connected to a ransomware gang, temporarily took down the Lazio government’s website over the weekend, while also incapacitating LAZIOCrea, a third-party firm in charge of scheduling and booking vaccination appointments. Data associated with a large public health database was also encrypted, though the government has backups of the data, local outlets have reported.

ANSA, the nation’s leading wire service, reports that the cybercriminals infiltrated LAZIOCrea’s systems as an “administrator” and were able to deploy “a malware that encrypted the data on the system.” In a Facebook post, the local government admitted that “operations relating to vaccinations may be delayed” as a result.

“At the moment we are defending our community from these attacks of a terrorist nature,” said Nicola Zingaretti, Lazio’s governor, at a press conference. “The attacks are still taking place. The situation is very serious.”

Lazio’s health manager, Alessio D’Amato, added that it was “a very powerful hacker attack, very serious… everything is out. The whole regional CED [the database] is under attack.”

The attacks appear to have interrupted the region’s vaccination efforts at a time when the “Delta variant” — a new, highly transmissible strain of the COVID-19 virus — is spreading across Europe. Italy also just passed a new mandate requiring citizens to show a digital or printed “health pass” (which proves vaccination) in order to access certain recreational activities, such as theatres or indoor dining — making the timing of the whole incident particularly problematic for the region.

Throughout the pandemic, hackers have ruthlessly targeted medical institutions, exploiting the public health crisis and using it as leverage against their victims: Hospitals, public health websites, and academic researchers have all been attacked. It’s particularly disturbing to see such morally unscrupulous tactics targeted at the vaccination process — a process solely designed to save lives — especially for a country as hard hit by COVID as Italy.