Criminals target government with record cyber attacks

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson |

Australia recorded one of the world’s biggest rises in attacks against government departments.
Australia recorded one of the world’s biggest rises in attacks against government departments.

Australian government agencies have become growing target for cyber attacks worldwide, with a report revealing attempts to steal official information have soared by more than 60 per cent.

The BlackBerry Global Threat Intelligence Report, released on Wednesday, found only the United States suffered a similar increase in attacks on government departments between June and August this year. 

Financial firms and the healthcare industry suffered the greatest number of incidents and BlackBerry warned ransomware groups were increasingly issuing more than one demand for payment from companies they infiltrated. 

The findings come one week after the federal government launched a $600 million Cyber Security Strategy amid claims past policies had left the country in a “cyber slumber”. 

BlackBerry’s quarterly report found criminals launched more than 84,500 attacks on Australian firms over three months, making the nation the eighth most popular target for cyber crime worldwide. 

Online hacking
A report found criminals launched more than 84,500 attacks on Australian firms over three month. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

But Australia recorded one of the world’s biggest rises in attacks against government departments, agencies and third parties, with public service attacks rising from 30,000 between March and May to 48,000 between June and August. 

In an attack in April, a Russia-linked group breached the security of law firm HWL Ebsowrth and stole information from government agencies, including the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. 

The BlackBerry report found ransomware attacks remained a common method of attack and many criminals were choosing to extort businesses more than once, issuing a financial demand to unlock data and another to prevent the information being sold on the Dark Web.

BlackBerry threat research and intelligence vice-president Ismael Valenzuela said the company encountered a 70 per cent increase in malware during the period, or a rate of 26 attacks every minute. 

“Malicious actors are working harder than ever to expand their range and volume of cyber attacks,” he said. 

Monash University cybersecurity professor Nigel Phair told AAP ransomware and hacking attempts continued to pay off for criminals, making them hard to stop. 

“We will continue to see (ransomware) attacks because they’re successful and when you’re a criminal enterprise focused on money, you stick to what works,” he said. 

“Double-extortion is going gangbusters.”

But Prof Phair said the federal government’s Cyber Security Strategy could play a role in diverting attackers if it strengthened defences and made hacking harder.

“All we can do is target-harden ourselves as a jurisdiction so cyber criminals think it’s too hard picking on Australian corporate, not-for-profits and governments and go somewhere else,” he said. 

The government committed another $600 million to counter online attacks and educate businesses as part of its new strategy, with Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil saying the nation had previously been “in a cyber slumber” on security, “lagging behind our trading partners and allies”. 

AAP