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Pandemic sees increase in ransomware crime

The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s (ACSC) annual Cyber Threat Report shows that between 2020-2021 the threat of ransomware attacks has grown, recording a 15 per cent year on year increase. 

As many Australians shifted their lives online on account of the pandemic, their dependence on the internet in daily life opened up more opportunities and vulnerability to cybercrime. 

Businesses can take steps to ensure cyber security and protect their valuable information and assets. 

What is Ransomware? 

Ransomware is a form of malware. It gives an attacker access to the data stored on a device or network. Should ransomware attack a machine or network, the device or files become locked or encrypted, making them unusable. 

The attackers then hold this information for ransom, demanding payment for it to be returned. For small businesses that rely on their data or technology, a ransomware attack is crippling.  

Alternatively, ransomware attackers may threaten to publish the sensitive data they have accessed through a device. Again, in this case, attacks will demand payment to keep data or information private. 

ACSC’s report shows that incidences of data and devices being held for ransom have increased because of the pandemic. In Australia, the public reported 500 incidents of ransomware being used between 2020 and 2021. That is an average of more than one attack every day. 

Head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Ms Abigail Bradshaw, CSC said, “As we shifted online to go schoolwork or work from home or buy things or keep communicating, the criminals have also shifted and really prosecuted our online lives to make money or steal our information.” 

According to the report, ransomware remains one of the most disruptive threats to Australian businesses, stating that, “Ransomware can cripple organisations that rely on computer systems to function by encrypting devices, folders and files and rendering systems inaccessible.”

How to protect against ransomware

Businesses and individuals can take steps to protect against a ransomware attack. Using strong passwords is the first and easiest action to protect against malware of any kind. 

Ms Bradshaw said, “There’s some basic steps that we want all Aussies to do, like using complex passphrases and using multi-factor authentication whenever you can. ‘Password 123’ is not a great password.” 

She continued: “Try something like ‘endless-fun-in-facemasks’, or ‘home schooling rocks’, and changing some of those characters. And most importantly, take a close look at when updates are available on your phone or smart device. Never push update later. Always push update now.”

A good password will have a better chance of protecting data if devices are regularly updated. Cybercriminals use known weaknesses in operating systems to access a device. System updates patch flaws in the security of a system. Updating will keep a device one step ahead of criminals. 

Enabling multi-factor identification adds an additional layer of protection on data. ACSC states, “Multi-factor authentication means there are two checks in place to prove your identity before you can access your account. For example, you may need to supply an authentication code from an app and your password.” 

Other actions that a business or individual can take include: 

  • Set up and perform regular backups
  • Implement access controls
  • Turn on ransomware protection

What to do in the event of a ransomware attack 

The best-laid protection may still fail. Should an attack occur, ACSC outlines the steps a business or individual should take. 

Firstly, they state that you should never pay a ransom, saying, “There is no guarantee you will regain access to your information. You may also be targeted by another attack.” 

ACSC provides the following seven actions a business or individual should take in the event of a ransomware attack. 

Step 1: Disconnect your devices

Step 2: Stop the ransomware

Step 3: Run a malware scan (Windows 10 only)

Step 4: Write down key details

Step 5: Get professional help

Step 6: Notify and report

Step 7: Protect yourself from future ransomware attacks

In protecting against future attacks, businesses should develop a cyber security plan. When creating this plan, understanding the importance of each piece of data is essential. 

For each critical data set businesses should consider, what is it? The impact if it is lost? Where is it located? Do you have copies, and if so, where? A guide to developing a cyber security plan can be found here: Cyber emergency security plan 

To conclude, Ms Bradshaw said, “As you shift your life online, try and spend some time also lifting your cyber security resilience and making yourself a hard target for those criminals.”

Read more:Cybercriminals turn to email impersonation as businesses focus on security against malware

Read more:Labor calls on federal government to ‘urgently’ develop national ransomware strategy as cyber attacks increase

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Heidi Heck

Heidi Heck

Heidi Heck is a Journalist at Dynamic Business. She is a student at the University of Queensland where she studies Journalism and Economics. Heidi has a passion for the stories of small business, as well as the bigger picture of economics.

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