He went on: “There is a very broad range of attacks going on, from harvesting the details of individuals and healthcare workers, collecting information about vaccines and reconnaissance. But ransomware is the biggest danger, because if everything locks down people can die.

“Hospitals are often, from an IT point of view,understaffed and undertrained… some are still using Windows 2000 or legacy databases. We’ve had lots of discussions about ventilators, but really this is where we have under-invested.”

Nick Howard, chief executive of the British firm Klaatu IT Security, said the “prevention and cure” that the alliance could offer the NHS was of “vital national importance” to ensure doctors and nurses could save lives without their systems crashing down around them. 

The company has set up a UK hotline for NHS services to gain free access to its “Raptor” rapid response service. Another company, ITCSecure, is managing NHS defence from its all-hours operations centre in London.

The number of online crimes reported to the US FBI has soared by 400pc during the pandemic, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has seen a fivefold increase in attacks on its staff.

Mr Pienaar started the project when his cousin and her husband, who are both NHS nurses, suffered a ransomware attack at their hospital. Much of the work, he said, has involved lending staff to “overstretched” operations centres run by various health services.

He declined to name any individual hospitals that had participated due to safety concerns, but said that the group has just signed a deal with the US health department.  hat much of the work involved lending staff to “overstretched” operations centres run by various national health services.

In March, more than 400 cybersecurity experts, including senior employees at Amazon and Microsoft, formed the Covid-19 CTI League, more broadly spreading its work across 40 countries.

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