Cyber security has been a challenge for organisations since the dawn of computing. With every new wave of technology, cyber security has only become more important. In today’s world of Big Data, the amount of data each organisation possesses has increased dramatically. With terabytes of personally identifiable user data, and confidential financial data under their control, companies reputations hang on how securely they handle data. Data is the new currency that organisations function on. So, cyber criminals are constantly attempting to find new and more complex ways to disrupt businesses.

In the context of Australia, the story is no different. Businesses find themselves lagging behind cyber criminals, and are in a rush to secure their systems. Let’s look at some of the recent incidents of cyber crime that have affected Australian businesses, and the response to them:

The biggest cyber attacks to hit Australia in 2017

WannaCry and Petya ransomware

2017’s biggest cyber attacks in Australia were part of the wave of ransomware attacks that affected some of the largest organisations across the country. The first was WannaCry, a ransomware attack that originated in the Ukraine and spread across the world quickly. It hit Aussie shores and affected police traffic cameras. The Australian traffic police put out a notice that 8,000 of their traffic cameras were affected by the virus that infected their Windows PCs, and as a result they had to cancel multiple tickets for speeding and jumping red lights. This happened in May and June 2017, and just a month later, another ransomware named Petya was on the loose.

Petya promptly crippled a Cadbury factory in Hobart. The Windows-powered PCs in their factory were infected by the ransomware and rendered non-functional. This meant that production was halted for the day and employees were unable to work without their systems. Quantas was also affected by the ransomware as customers were unable to access their flight bookings or make new bookings either online or via their call centre. Further, legal firms, courier companies, advertising agencies, and several additional companies have been affected. The WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks were a big wake-up call for Australian businesses.

Data breaches

Apart from ransomware attacks that focus on physical computer systems, data breaches that aim to steal confidential data from organisations were the most common cyber security threat of 2017. The Department of Finance experienced a data breach where the details of 50,000 employees and 5,000 federal servants were exposed. The data included personal information like email IDs, phone numbers, salary information, access credentials like passwords, and even financial information such as credit card numbers. The breach was blamed on a third-party vendor, and the cause was identified as incorrectly configured storage for a database hosted in Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Data is the new currency that organisations function on. So, cyber criminals are constantly attempting to find new and more complex ways to disrupt businesses

In a similar incident, the pizza chain Domino's suffered a data breach where a large number of its customers’ email IDs, names, and stores they visited (among other data) was compromised. Domino's customers received multiple phishing emails that addressed them by name. Domino's issued a statement blaming the attack on an ex-partner, and stated that an online ratings system was vulnerable. The incident left many customers upset that their data was compromised, and some wanted more details about the true extent of the breach and how it occurred.

The dark web

The dark web is an anonymous space on the Internet that is accessible only via special software. It is used by criminals to keep them under the radar while carrying out activities that would be considered illegal on the open Internet. This past year it was discovered that Australians’ Medicare numbers were up for sale on the dark web. By accessing people’s health information, criminals can hold patients to ransom by threatening to publicly disclose their sensitive health information. And another troubling discovery — a dark web marketplace has been found, with people selling credit card information from a company based out of Melbourne, and other confidential data.

What more should organisations be doing to protect themselves from cyber attacks in 2018?

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The government’s response

In response to these issues, earlier this year the Australian government passed the Notifiable Data Breaches bill which requires companies to mandatorily disclose any data breaches that occur. (Similar laws have been in place for many years in the US and the UK.) Prior to passage of this law, Australia simply had a list of recommendations for how businesses should handle and disclose information about data breaches. This new law has made it a compulsory requirement to disclose data breaches, and goes a long way in building customer trust in the organisations that handle their data. With this law, there is a higher likelihood of lawsuits being filed against companies that choose not to follow it. The penalties faced can be severe, and can permanently damage a company. This law comes into effect early in 2018, and Australian businesses need to be more intentional about their cyber security strategy.

Additionally, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law has a bearing on Australian businesses that have an office or centre functioning in the EU. It enforces regulations around the movement of confidential data to and from the EU.

In other measures, the Australian government plans to hire a reserve army of computer software professionals from top tech companies and keep them on standby for a cyber security emergency like WannaCry or Petya. The UK already employs 500 such reserves. It is a sign of governments wanting to be prepared for the worst before it happens.



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