Ransomware is always a serious threat to companies. But with coronavirus spreading around the globe, the stakes are even higher for targeted health care and other essential industries that need to keep people safe. Too bad their protections haven't been stepped up.

In a sobering report this week, Wired found that hackers have been putting in place measures to launch massive ransomware attacks against organizations critical to the coronavirus fight. They're now launching those attacks, according to a Microsoft security report, and forcing targets to pay up or face the possibility of an extended data lockdown that could put lives at risk.

Ransomware is nothing new, of course. Hackers use holes in security or dupe employees to gain access to corporate networks. Once they're in, they lock down networks and stop employees from accessing critical data. Companies are then left with a choice: pay up or have their data held hostage or deleted.

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With coronavirus wreaking havoc around the world, however, ransomware isn't simply an attempt for hackers to make some money; it could cost people their lives.

"As hospitals and medical organizations around the world are working nonstop to preserve the well-being of individuals stricken with the coronavirus, they have become targets for ruthless cybercriminals who are looking to make a profit at the expense of sick patients," Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock said last month, according to Wired.

Worst of all, companies, hospitals, and essential businesses are no more prepared today than they were before the outbreak. Even companies that have the strongest encryption or the heavily guarded networks can't stop an employee from falling victim to a phishing attack that gives cybercriminals access to the network.

So, what are those hospitals and businesses left to do? In large part, hope they don't get attacked. And if they do, they should have backups readily available and data ready to be restored so that networks are up and running in no time. If they don't have any of that, they may need to make a difficult choice: pay up or risk lives.