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Cyber extortion hits 18-month high

Cyber attacks on Medibank and Optus are just the tip of the iceberg, after cyber security experts revealed that the two were among 16 successful extortion incidents that occurred in November.

user icon Daniel Croft
Thu, 08 Dec 2022
Cyber extortion hits 18-month high
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According to the nation’s leading cyber security firm CyberCX, these incidents brought cyber extortion levels to an 18-month high.

“These figures will confirm what I think many Australians felt in a visceral sense over recent months — a surge of cyber extortion attacks targeting Australian organisations,” said CyberCX chief strategy officer Alastair MacGibbon.

“We’re also seeing cyber criminals adapt, evolve and innovate to get better at what they do. We need to do likewise and be as proactive as possible in defending our critical systems.”

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Engineering, manufacturing, and construction industries made up a third of the companies targeted, with a second third made up of professional services. IT followed at 20 per cent, while financial services and education both had 7 per cent each.

In its Ransomware and Cyber Extortion report, CyberCX has said that “cyber criminals use attack methods that involve the lowest amount of effort for the highest payoff”.

Criminals would once steal data for use or sale; however, the market has since become saturated and selling stolen data takes time and effort. Ransomware and data extortion provides bad actors with a way to steal money from the victim directly, with stolen data acting as leverage.

CyberCX’s cyber intelligence director Katherine Mansted has said that the number of cyber criminal organisations has also sharply increased, increasing from a few to almost a dozen.

“Previous spikes have generally been driven by two or three big-name established and organised groups and they’re just doing more harm across more ­organisations,” said Mansted.

“This month is remarkable ­because not only is it the highest on our records over the past 18 months, but it’s the most number of different groups. That tells us something is potentially changing. This is getting worse. Despite law enforcement efforts to tame the beast, there are more cyber organisations piling in.”

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is thought to have also influenced attacks, as Russian-based hacking groups target Canberra and Australian organisations in response to its support for Ukraine.

Chinese organisations have also been reported to have conducted cyber attacks, with growing tension between China and Australia likely influencing the increase.

CyberCX says that hacking groups are also much more advanced than ever before.

“Advanced ransomware and cyber extortion groups are organised and professional — a step change from the cyber crime scene even several years ago.”

These groups conduct strategic and organised attacks that play out in phases, while also acquiring information of vulnerabilities from security researchers looking to make a quick buck.

“All of this makes modern cyber criminals a big — and growing — risk to organisations.”

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Born in the heart of Western Sydney, Daniel Croft is a passionate journalist with an understanding for and experience writing in the technology space. Having studied at Macquarie University, he joined Momentum Media in 2022, writing across a number of publications including Australian Aviation, Cyber Security Connect and Defence Connect. Outside of writing, Daniel has a keen interest in music, and spends his time playing in bands around Sydney.

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