Ransomware has been at the centre of almost every cybersecurity conversation in the past two years, particularly since the pandemic drastically increased our reliance on technology. Australian businesses’ dependence on technology, and relatively high incomes and profitability, make them attractive to cybercriminals who are constantly on the prowl for new victims.
Tiny Crimes Australia Survey
According to its annual report, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) received over 67,500 cybercrime reports in FY20/21; a rise of 13% over the previous term. To put it into context, this metric equates to a cyber-attack against an Australian business taking place every 8 minutes. While these are the reported attacks and crimes, it is key to note that many more go not only unreported but undetected.
For some time now, the ransomware-as-a-service business model has helped cybercriminals by providing the latest and most complex ransomware to anyone for a subscription fee, expanding the number of threat actors working against Australian businesses. Combined with the more sophisticated attackers who often use specialised tools, techniques, and research their targets well, it’s easy to see how the probability of a compromise has increased.
As a result, ransomware alone accounted for approximately 500 of the reports to the ASCS - an increase of 15% when compared to the previous year. This escalation in criminal attacks reportedly caused over $33 billion in losses.
Why has ransomware been so successful in Australia?
Firstly, Australian businesses and consumers are generally considered to have good ability to pay; that is, they have cash reserves and high disposable incomes. Furthermore, many businesses, especially small and medium professional businesses, are completely unprepared to defend themselves against ransomware and cybercriminals in general, which makes paying a ransom to get their businesses operating again seem like an easy and attractive solution. When you combine this with a laid-back attitude to cybersecurity and poor risk judgement, the “it’ll never happen to me” mentality makes these SMBs great targets.
Similarly, in the case of larger companies, it comes down to the ability to pay and how disruptive to operations the incident has been. Attacks on larger businesses are often focussed on manufacturing, food production, healthcare, infrastructure, and retail; industries where, when systems go offline, the goods and services that generate revenue stop absolutely – resulting in a higher chance of attackers being paid. This can be seen in the case of Australian companies like Eastern Health, UnitingCare Queensland, and JBS Foods.
What is the government doing to address this threat?
To address the financial impact and dissuade future ransomware attacks, the Australian Federal Government has put forward its Ransomware Action Plan - a new set of processes built on the 2020 cybersecurity strategy, which was a welcome addition in its own right.
Specifically, the ransomware plan is a tangible roadmap that will:
- Create a separate offence for ransomware/cyber-extortion making the legal and criminal framework easier to enforce.
- Strengthen offence rules making it an elevated aggravated offence to target critical infrastructure; and for the first time in Australia, the victim of the cybercrime will define the offence type.
- Address the under-reporting issue with mandates, and allow the collection and sharing of vital threat intelligence amongst the cybersecurity industry, business, and government.
- Make it easier for law enforcement to seize ransomed funds, making Australian businesses a less attractive target.
- Focus on cryptocurrency transactions to de-anonymise and track ransomware payments – like actions in place in the US by the FBI.
This move by the federal government is a pivotal development in our fight against cybercrime, especially when we consider how our reliance on data and technology has skyrocketed. For a long time, cybercrime and data security were left out of the boardroom, with business leaders often considering them an issue exclusive to IT or “to others” but this has been slowly changing. In the last few years, the rise of cybercrime on a global scale is has brought this to the forefront of any boards and executives.
The Ransomware Action Plan is a welcome piece of government action to move the dial towards better education and protection against cybercrime in Australia.
Business leaders need to recognise that cybersecurity is a business problem, not a technology problem, and that everyone has a role to play. Today’s businesses are technology enabled and, without effective cybersecurity, they will face and carry significant risks. They need to be aware that new regulations, guidelines, and obligations are coming, and these will impact how organisations handle cybersecurity.
Even businesses that aren’t directly covered by some of the new regulations will still be affected, as their customers and suppliers who are will demand that they also comply with the new rules.
As a result, all organisations need to be prepared to for the incoming regulations, and be ahead of them, to operate effectively in the market. To ensure they’re prepared, security professionals should help their non-technology executives and board understand their organisation’s risk profile, and ensure effective, ongoing communication between departments. And looking ahead, security teams must ensure their organisations are getting the most out of what they have in place today, while preparing for the future. Too many cybersecurity practices focus on one at the expense of the other, where in fact, both must happen at the same time.