In context: Ransomware can have a devastating effect on any business it infects. But in the case of hospitals, a popular target for cybercriminals, it can be deadly, potentially impacting patient health and life expectancy.

A new report by The Ponemon Institute think tank, sponsored by cybersecurity company Censinet, reveals the impact ransomware has on hospitals in a time when many are struggling to cope with the pandemic.

The report surveyed 597 IT and IT security professionals in Healthcare Delivery Organizations (HDOs). Over the last two years, 43% said they experienced a ransomware attack. Out of those respondents, 67% said their organizations were hit with one attack, while 33% said they suffered two or more.

Ransomware can have a huge impact on the patients staying at these hospitals. The most common consequence, reported by 71% of survey respondents, was an increase in the duration of their stay. This was closely followed by delays in procedures and tests that resulted in poor outcomes (70%).

Additionally, 61% said the attacks saw an increase in patients transferred or diverted to other facilities, while 36% said they were responsible for increased complications from medical procedures.

The most disturbing effect ransomware can have on hospitals is the death of patients. Out of those surveyed, 22% said it increased the mortality rates. ZDNet reports that police investigated the death of a patient that came as the result of a ransomware attack on a German hospital—they died while being transferred to another location—but authorities concluded that the patient's poor health meant they were still likely to have died.

"Our findings correlated increasing cyberattacks, especially ransomware, with negative effects on patient care, exacerbated by the impact of COVID on healthcare providers," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute.

We've seen several hospitals and health care centers hit with ransomware attacks over the years. Additionally, the FBI in 2020 issued a warning to expect a campaign taking advantage of the added pressure institutions were feeling from Covid-19. Illustrating how common it had become, ransomware-hit hospitals even appeared as part of Watch Dogs 2's DLC.