Ransomware threatening Australian businesses

Ransomware threatening Australian businesses - by Steven Thomas

Dealing with ransomware attacks pre-COVID 19 was a challenge for many businesses, but it’s become much more of a threat recently. That’s because many of these attacks have targeted SMEs who don’t have the resources of the big multi-nationals to fend off these threats.

Cyber criminals are increasingly using COVID-19 themed phishing attacks aimed at employees who are genuinely concerned about the effects of the pandemic. Employees working from home are at even greater risk, because they don’t have the security firewalls and business level cyber security on their home computers. So once the emails are opened, the ransomware is released with devastating consequences.

Why have ransomware attacks increased during COVID-19?

Ransomware is one of the most prolific cyber-crimes because it’s very easy to deploy. Hackers simply send out millions of emails and all that’s needed is one person to open an email. With people worried about their health and finances during the pandemic, it’s easy to see that many people may open COVID-19 themed emails. 

Previously, ransomware attacks in Australia have generally been focused on high volume low value targets, meaning that millions of phishing emails are sent out with the ransom set at $1,000 or less. As you can imagine, if 1,000 companies each pay the $1,000 ransom, it results in a very big payday. This is still a strategy that is used by cyber-criminals to hit SMEs in Australia, but these criminals are also starting to target larger companies for even bigger paydays. 

In Australia, these targets have included companies and organisations in the health, aged care, transport and education sectors and the ransoms can be in the millions of dollars. For example, BlueScope, ServiceNSW and Toll Group have all experienced ransomware attacks this year. In the US, a top US entertainment law firm in New York (Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks) was recently targeted and the hackers doubled their ransom from an initial $21 million USD to $42 million USD. The same hackers targeted Travelex in the UK earlier in the year, a UK-based currency exchange company that paid $2.3 million in bitcoin to get their stolen files returned.

These types of companies are very attractive targets to cyber-criminals and the Financial Times has reported that they are just the tip of the Iceberg. That’s because many organisations either don’t know that they have been attacked or don’t report them to the authorities. In fact, it has been observed that ransomware related attacks have accounted for 41% of cyber insurance claims in the first 6 months of 2020. 

So how can SMEs protect themselves when these huge companies are so easily attacked?

  • Install antivirus software than can detect ransomware.
  • Keep everything on your computers up to date. That includes the operating system, apps, programs and browsers. Many of these updates include security patches that fix vulnerabilities exploited by cyber-criminals.
  • Always backup your data as often as possible and consider storing these backups on the cloud, as well as physical storage options.
  • Educate your employees about the dangers of opening unknown or unexpected emails. Don’t click on unknown or unverified attachments, particularly if you don’t know or trust the source.
  • If one of your computers does become infected with ransomware, contact the IT department immediately and unplug it from the network. 

It’s also important to make sure that you have Cyber Insurance to reduce your risks if your company is hacked. To find out more about Cyber Insurance for your business, talk to an insurance specialist today and find your local adviser.

General Advice Warning: This advice is general and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the advice is appropriate for you and your personal circumstances. Before you make any decision about whether to acquire a certain product, you should obtain and read the relevant product disclosure statement.

Steven Thomas, Westside Insurance Specialists AFSL: 240549, AR Number: 1242256, CAR Number: 427492

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