Article:

Cyber attacks and their impacts are on the rise

10 May 2019

Clinton Carpene, Principal Consultant - Cyber Resilience |

BDO in Australia and BDO in New Zealand recently released the results of their annual cyber security survey, in partnership with AusCERT. The survey data highlights some alarming trends in the frequency and severity of cyber attacks, as well as some interesting shifts in the business strategies employed by cyber criminals.

Malware

There was a significant drop in the reported number of general malware (down 44%) and ransomware attacks (77% decrease) from the previous survey. Such changes may have been triggered by the increased adoption of technical countermeasures to attacks such as binary whitelisting, robust backup strategies, software vulnerability and patch management, and increasingly advanced anti-malware implementations.

Phishing and social engineering attacks

Conversely, the survey shows a continuing trend in the increase of phishing attacks, suggesting that the human element continues to be a viable target for criminals and other hostile actors. While the conventional approach of education campaigns has been demonstrated to be a boon to the cyber security posture of many organisations, it cannot be denied (as indicated by the continued effectiveness of phishing campaigns) that education is not a silver bullet solution to the issue. Businesses must redirect their anti-phishing efforts to focus on technical controls to prevent phishing campaigns from successfully reaching the end user, as well as attack detection, response, and recovery procedures, if this alarming trend is to be addressed.

Specifically, BDO recommends that businesses aim to employ robust anti-phishing filters at their email gateways, as well as flagging messages that originate from outside the organisation. Simple technical mitigations such as these have been employed with great success across Australian businesses.

The addition of a simple prefix such as “[External]” added to the subject line of all inbound emails provides any user, regardless of the sophistication of the campaign, with clear and indisputable knowledge of where the email originated.

Data breaches

According to the survey results, there has been a reported increase in data leaks and breaches. It is believed these increases are likely due to the mandatory data breach notification scheme implemented by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in early 2018. It should be no surprise to anyone that there is little incentive to report these breaches in the absence of legal or regulatory requirements. The development of such legislation is of critical importance for driving cyber security progress and has been demonstrated to increase the transparency of cyber incidents. These are all good things for those implicated in such breaches!

What lays ahead?

Results from the 2018/2019 BDO and AusCERT Cyber Security Survey have highlighted a changing landscape for cyber security threats when compared to previous year’s survey data. This changing landscape requires new approaches to handling security issues; organisations need to adapt and focus their efforts on detection, response, and recovery rather than purely focusing on the prevention of attacks.

Visit the BDO website to download the full report and learn about specific results for your industry.