According to the Australian Cybersecurity Centre (ACSC) 2017 Threat Report, large and small Australian businesses alike are under attack. As threat actors adapt their tools for conning their way through IT cybersecurity protections, the ACSC reports more than $20 million has been lost to business email compromise, with dozens of thousands of separate attacks reported.
Every statistic reported by the ACSC indicates cybercrime in Australia is a growing business for criminals—but it’s not all doom and gloom. Businesses can protect their data and systems by taking appropriate measures. The steps aren’t complex and can be implemented by everyone, from home users to technology decision-makers.
What are the bad guys up to?
Before you can fight your enemy, you need to know them—and understand the tools they’re using against you. The main tool used by criminals is email. In business email compromise attacks, an email is most often sent to an executive with access to corporate funds. Business email compromise is a modern take on mail fraud: By crafting an email that looks it comes from an authority, the victim is duped into transferring funds into the fraudster’s bank account. By the time the deception is detected, the funds have been transferred to other accounts, making it difficult to recover the money.
Ransomware also continues to be used by threat actors, because it’s a simple and effective way to steal relatively modest amounts of money—just $300 to $500 at a time—on a large scale by targeting thousands of potential victims at a time. Victims are tricked into clicking on links that install the ransomware software onto their computers. If your IT network doesn’t have secure endpoints, these threats can spread even further into your environment.
Email is also used to trick people into handing over their usernames and passwords. These attacks, called phishing, use emails that look like they come from official senders such as banks or government departments. They include links directed to fake versions of websites that dupe the victim into entering usernames and passwords. The bad guys capture that information and then use it to impersonate you in order to access banks accounts or create false identities.
The other key method of attack is to simply steal or guess someone’s password. Despite repeated warnings from cybersecurity experts, weak passwords remain a major security issue. The most commonly used passwords in stolen user accounts are “123456” and “password.” References to pop culture and movies, like “iloveyou” and “letmein,” also feature highly in password usage.
5 ways you can improve security
While cybercrime in Australia continues to rise, the situation isn’t hopeless. Just as locks and alarms make life harder for burglars, certain steps can disrupt the business of online crime and alert IT to any “phishy” behaviour. The five main steps you can implement to improve cybersecurity are:
- Use stronger passwords: Longer passwords using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols are harder for thieves to crack.
- Manage privacy settings carefully: Look at your social media and other accounts—and those of your employees—to ensure no information is being shared that could give away passwords or be used to trick employees into thinking they’re receiving a message from someone at the office.
- Update software: Many cyber attacks rely on software vulnerabilities. In the vast majority of cases, fixes for these flaws are available but haven’t been installed, so make sure you’re doing your due diligence in this department.
- Back up data: If an attack succeeds, and you suffer some sort of data loss, an effective backup strategy can help you recover any lost data quickly.
- Avoid scams in suspicious email messages: Before clicking on links or opening attachments in email, make sure the sender’s address is who you think it’s from and the links go to a legitimate website. A good rule of thumb is not clicking on links and going to websites manually if you’re not 100 percent certain you trust the message.
How else can your business tighten IT cybersecurity?
It may feel daunting to tackle all these tasks, but they can—and should—be done. Protecting your company from cybercrime is a lot like occupational health and safety. Most employees in the workplace are aware of tripping hazards, the presence of dangerous materials, and performing their work safely. This is an ingrained part of workplace culture that’s created and maintained by consistent, regular messaging, ongoing training, and regulatory compliance.
You can enhance and maintain cybersecurity in the same way. Technology decision-makers need to implement ongoing education rather than annual security training, along with communications presented in common language about current threats. You should target and tailor communications to specific groups, too—factory workers and office personnel need to be trained differently than executives, who may receive more business email compromise and phishing attempts than regular employees. Office staff may prove more susceptible to ransomware attacks.
You should comprehensively educate users in the risks of online threats to mitigate rising risks. The ideal is creating and fostering a culture that supports reporting threats and not punishing victims. After all, you wouldn’t punish the victims of a robbery if someone broke through their locked door. Adopt this attitude when it comes to reporting cyber attacks, conduct regular backups of all business critical data, and keep systems up to date with the latest security fixes at all times. Even if you do, some attacks may still succeed, but you can reduce the number of attacks and mitigate impact.
While cybercrime in Australia remains a growing revenue stream for criminals, you can put up a good fight by taking these sensible steps, minimising and reducing risk of cybersecurity attacks across the organisation.