World leaders: Work together to stop cyberattacks plaguing healthcare systems

More than 40 former and current international leaders from across government, industry, international and non-governmental organizations and academia on Tuesday called on the world's governments to take immediate and decisive action to prevent and stop cyberattacks that target hospitals, healthcare, research organizations, and international authorities providing critical care and guidance in the midst of the ongoing global pandemic.

The signatories demand that governments work together, including at the United Nations, to reaffirm and recommit to international rules that prohibit such actions, and to join forces with civil society and the private sector, to ensure that medical facilities are respected and protected, and to hold attackers accountable.

The call follows cyberattacks in recent weeks against medical facilities, including in the Czech Republic, France, Spain, Thailand, and the United States, international organizations such as the World Health Organizations, and other health authorities. These attacks range from ransomware operations aimed at crippling primary and urgent care networks in exchange for payouts to disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining and disrupting wider elements of the response to the pandemic, including testing and vaccine research facilities. Where successful, these attacks have interrupted the provision of healthcare and put additional costs on healthcare providers. They underline the vulnerability of this sector to cyberattacks at a time when medical care is needed more than ever.  

"We're in the midst of the most urgent health crisis in modern history, and these attacks threaten all of humanity," said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and signatory of the call. "We must take action collectively to ensure this threat is addressed, and already fragile health care systems, particularly in countries affected by war and violence are not put at further risk by cyber operations."

The Call to Action comes against the background of important discussions on cyber stability and cyber-attacks against healthcare facilities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the United Nations Security Council and two United Nations General Assembly-mandated cyber processes.

"Over the past weeks, we have witnessed attacks that have targeted medical facilities and organizations on the frontlines of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These actions have endangered human lives by impairing the ability of these critical institutions to function, slowing down the distribution of essential supplies and information, and disrupting the delivery of care to patients. With hundreds of thousands of people already perished and millions infected around the world, medical care is more important than ever. This will not be the last health crisis. For now and for the future, governments should assert in unequivocal terms: cyber operations against heath care facilities are unlawful and unacceptable," the letter reads.

"As healthcare professionals are protecting us in the real world, it is up to civil society, industry and governments to collectively act for their protection in cyberspace," said Stéphane Duguin, Chief Executive Officer at the CyberPeace Institute. "In this effort, humanity needs governments to work together by setting the tone and the example, to ensure healthcare is protected, and perpetrators are held accountable."

Additional notable signatories include: former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov; former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein; former Director General of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan; former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo; and Microsoft President Brad Smith. The signatories also include seven Nobel Prize Laureates. 

The letter specifically calls on all governments to take immediate action including by asserting unequivocally that cyber operations against healthcare facilities are unlawful and unacceptable and to work with each other, with civil society and with the private sector, to ensure that medical facilities are respected and protected.


-        Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford

-        Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State, United States

-        Ban Ki-moon, Former Secretary General of the United Nations

-        Lakhdar Brahimi, Former Foreign Minister, Algeria

-        John Bruton, Former Taoiseach, Ireland

-        Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President, Brazil

-        Margaret Chan, Former Director-General, World Health Organization

-        Eva Chen, Chief Executive Officer, Trend Micro

-        Stephane Duguin, Chief Executive Officer, CyberPeace Institute

-        Mohamed ElBaradei, Former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency 

-        Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons 

-        Mikhail Gorbachev, Former President, Soviet Union

-        Gro Harlem Brundtland, Former Director General, World Health Organization

-        Zhixiong Huang, Professor of International Law, Wuhan University

-        Igor Ivanov, Former Foreign Minister, Russia

-        Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President, Liberia 

-        Eugene Kaspersky, Chief Executive Officer, Kaspersky

-        Khoo Boon Hui, Former President, INTERPOL

-       Larry Kramer, President, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

-        Ricardo Lagos, Former President, Chile

-        Doris Leuthard, Former President of the Swiss Confederation

-        Adrian Lovett, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Wide Web Foundation

-        Susana Malcorra, Former Foreign Minister, Argentina

-        Peter Maurer, President, International Committee of the Red Cross

-        Daniel Mitov, Former Foreign Minister, Bulgaria

-        Eduardo Montealegre, Former Foreign Minister, Nicaragua

-        Marty Natalegawa, Former Foreign Minister, Indonesia

-        Nandan Nilekani, Non-Executive Chairman of the Board, Infosys

-        Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Former Finance Minister, Nigeria

-        Maia Panjikidze, Former Foreign Minister, Georgia

-        Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

-        Sir Richard J. Roberts, Chief Scientific Officer, New England Biolabs 

-        Francesco Rocca, President, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

-        Julio María Sanguinetti, Former President, Uruguay

-        Juan Manuel Santos, Former President, Colombia

-        Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation

-        Marietje Schaake, Former Member of the European Parliament

-        Michael Schmitt, Professor of International Law, University of Reading

-        Wendy Sherman, Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, United States

-        Brad Smith, President, Microsoft

-        Helle Thorning Schmidt, Former Prime Minister, Denmark

-        Desmund Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town

-        Danilo Türk, Former President, Slovenia

-       Lech Wałęsa, Former Polish President

-        Sir Graham Watson, Former Member of the European Parliament, UK

-        Harold F. Wolf III, Chief Executive Officer, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society

-       Ernesto Zedillo, Former President, Mexico