Police and security experts fighting back against online criminal threat

1 Jul 2015

POLICE, IT academics and internet security experts have joined together to reduce the risk of online criminal attacks on businesses.

The South West Cyber Security Cluster offers expert support from specialists in the two counties.

Those involved include a pair of Devon IT security firms, Exeter and Plymouth Universities and Devon and Cornwall Police

They say that large-scale sophisticated cyber attacks are rare – but that does not mean that a small company in the South West is safe.

There is the trickle-down effect of collateral damage in an inter-connected world were many rely on a few IT corporations, banks and payment services.

“If a giant company like Apple is hit, you can be too if you use their products and services,” said Peter Jones, an IT forensic expert with Dynamiq.

High-level attacks were rare but criminality could even be directed at small organisations for political reasons, he said.

“Your business might get hit because it uses a bank that has made comments about, say, the civil war in Syria,” said Mr Jones.

“One of your employees might make a comment on social media and your business might get attacked because of that.”

Anonymous, an international group of “activist hackers” had turned on subsidiaries and smaller organisations that did business with one of their large-scale targets, he said.

Police and security experts in the South West say such high-level hacking is infrequent. Scams and fraud that used to be carried out in person or by letter have instead gone online.

In three months of last year alone, fraud losses in Devon and Cornwall totalled £8million. “At least 70 per cent of that had a cyber element,” said DCI Stuart Cavin, of the Serious and Organised Crime Branch.

Reported business-related cyber crime represented the “tip of the iceberg”, he said.

“There is massive under-reporting in the business community, for commercial reasons,” he said.

“If a business’s website is hit they don’t necessarily want a police investigation. They may be worried that (reporting the crime) will damage the trust of people buying goods.”

Mr Jones said that some businesses and individuals had a “turn off and walk away” attitude. “We (in the cyber cluster) want everybody to understand that they can take control of their data. Think how damaging even information can be: if your secret recipe or unique process is stolen your business could be destroyed.”

Mr Jones said he was astonished that some people baulked at the cost of a £35 anti-virus software upgrade – yet spent hundreds of pounds on new laptops and mobile phones.

“How would you feel if you lost all your files or your family photo albums? You would pay hundreds, thousands to get them back.”

Peter Woodward, director of IT security company Securious, said: “People don’t have up-to-date malware protection (against hacking) and they don’t change default passwords when they buy new equipment.

“I think everyone is vulnerable.”

Other key security considerations for businesses and individuals included ensuring any device sold on or given away was first completely “cleaned” of any personal or sensitive date, said Mr Jones.

www.actionfraud.police.uk is the national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, which has advice on support and prevention; www.getsafeonline.org is the government security service to help protect computers, mobile phones and other devices from malicious attack


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