NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Federal agencies have issued a warning about cyberattacks against the country’s healthcare system.

The FBI said Wednesday it had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.”

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At least five U.S. hospitals were reportedly hit with ransomware attacks this week, including the St. Lawrence County Health System in Upstate New York.

The hacking could hurt patient care just as nationwide cases of COVID-19 are spiking.

In a ransomware attack, hackers scramble data, which can only be unlocked with software keys provided once a target pays a hefty sum.

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Michael Geraghty, New Jersey’s chief information security officer, told CBS2’s Meg Baker the threat of a cyberattack can start with a simple email.

“Email that you get that may have an office document, such as a Word or a PowerPoint document,” said Geraghty.

Baker asked Gov. Phil Murphy if hospitals in the state were prepared for a possible cyberattack during the 2nd wave of COVID-19.

“We are all over this, working with our health systems,” said Murphy.

“Technology continue to change. The attack vectors continue to change. They must remain vigilant and must remain up to date,” Geraghty said.

That means regularly patching software, and running anti-virus and anti-malware scans.

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According to Geraghty, these cybercriminals are unknown, but they’ve already left some hospitals frozen, relying on paper and pencils for record keeping. That’s a huge impediment during the pandemic.

New York City is prepared, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I feel very confident about that we’ve watched attacks on other cities and learned from them, and put additional measures in place,” de Blasio said.

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So, how can you protect yourself, as a individual, and be prepared for a cyber-emergency?

“Take photos of all of your medications. Keep it with you on your phone. If you have a medical history, scan it and have it readily available to you so, if there’s an issue, you’re able to get to that doctor,” said cybersecurity expert Ian Marlow, founder and CEO of FitechGelb.

Cyber experts say smaller hospitals are not any more vulnerable than the larger systems.

Smaller hospitals, in fact, may have a better eye on what’s going on within their computer systems and be alerted to a hack sooner. Large hospitals are only as strong as their weakest link.


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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)