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Ransomware new threat for Aust business

AAP logoAAP 12/12/2016 Ethan James

Australian businesses are increasingly at risk of attack by malicious ransomware software as hackers expand their focus beyond government and banks, according to a cybersecurity expert.

President of US internet security firm iSIGHT, John Watters, says criminals trying to gain access to data to extort money loom as the biggest online threat for businesses in the next few years.

"Right now we're seeing ransomware and other types that expands beyond just financials and government organisations," Mr Watters said.

"They're saying 'hey you know what, I don't need to go get a bunch of credit cards and online bank accounts, because if I get ransomware payed by some benign industry, I can still get money'."

Ransomware is software that infects a user's computer or network, locking access to files until a sum of money is paid.

More than 1.1 billion ransomware attacks hit Australia in first half of this year, according to the 2016 ''Reign of Ransomware' report from internet security software provider Trend Micro.

And the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission estimates Australian small businesses lost $1 million to ransomware scams in 2014.

Companies with '"treasure troves" of personal data, such as law and accounting firms were some of the most enticing targets, Mr Watters said.

In his experience, companies with 500-1000 employees were also ideal, although hackers usually operate a scattergun approach, trying to infect as many as possible and scaling their demands accordingly.

"When you move up into that 500-plus territory, they've got the economic ability to pay a much higher number and a lot of times their security isn't a lot better than the smaller companies," Mr Watters said.

The increase of wifi-connected handheld devices has left businesses open to attack from more angles, Mr Watters said.

The Australia government announced in April a $230 million cyber security strategy, while a mandatory breach notification bill currently sits before the federal parliament.

If passed it would force some businesses to report to customers when their data is at risk or has been breached.

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