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Australian businesses must fight back against the rising sophistication and frequency of cyber threats such as ransomware.


The prospect of a ransomware attack strikes fear into the hearts of many business owners – with good reason.


For 2020-21, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) reported that it had received more than 500 ransomware cybercrime reports, a rise of 15 per cent. Such attacks involve criminals hacking into a business’s computer systems and locking up devices, files and data until a ransom is paid. In what is being called “double distortion”, the fraudsters are increasingly also threatening to release sensitive data or information about businesses to the world.


Just this year, at least seven Australian businesses were reportedly hit by the same ransomware, known as REvil, that shut down operations at meatworks company JBS Foods. Many more attacks go unreported, highlighting the importance of taking the following measures to protect your business.


1.    Stay alert to possible attacks

Ransomware and malware attacks often occur because of simple errors within businesses, including employees clicking on unexpected attachments in phishing emails and operating unpatched systems. So, the imperative is for staff to receive basic training about cyber threats and to be cautious when dealing with external parties. Part of that education should be around better knowledge of email and mobile platforms that could be exposed to cybersecurity threats, while conducting regular reviews of data systems is a must.


2.    Ensure you have backups of key technologies and data

The key bargaining tool for ransomware attackers is seizing control of a business’s critical technology and then trying to extort the operation for its return. However, if a business has independent or off-site backups of files and data, it minimises the threat from the fraudsters and gives the business more options in the event of an attack.


3.    Insist on multi-factor authentication

A smart way to increase business resilience and reduce the threat of phishing and malware is using multi-factor (MFA) or two-factor (2FA) authentication. This means your business requires additional information on top of a username or password to grant access to systems such as Office 365 and Google app administrator accounts, as well as virtual private networks and remote desktops. Fingerprints and codes sent through text messages are common additional forms of ID. 


4.    Have a plan in the event of an attack

Taking a head-in-the-sand approach to ransomware attacks is fraught with danger. In addition to backing up data, business owners and managers should have a blueprint if the worst happens and fraudsters do target their business. One obvious question that needs answering is whether you should pay a ransom or not. The ACSC advises against paying a ransom because it does not guarantee that a victim’s files will be restored, and it does not prevent the release of any stolen data. However, the circumstances for each business may be different and a well-considered response is essential.


5.    Get an independent assessment of your risk exposure

Last, but not least, think seriously about getting an independent technology expert to identify any network weaknesses in your business. Smaller firms, in particular, may not have access to internal technology expertise, and external consultants are more likely to be up to speed with the latest ransomware and cybersecurity threats. Given that British IT security company Sophos has revealed that the global average cost to fix a ransomware attack is about US$761,106, getting expert help is likely to be money well spent.


Ransomware attacks are one of the biggest threats for business owners and managers. So contact us today to get advice on how to protect your operations from cyber threats.

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