The Digital Hostage: Businesses called to action over cybersecurity threats

June 26, 2021

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The UK has been warned by the head of the GCHQ cybersecurity arm that cyber risks are not being properly managed, amidst a recent surge of global cyber attacks. 

What does this mean?

Gone are the days of using magazine clippings to write ransom notes. In the same way that everything else has found a way to shift online, ransomware attacks have become the digital counterpart for a sophisticated crime. These attacks involve hackers paralysing a business’ computer network, preventing them from carrying out everyday operations until payment has been made so that companies can regain access to their own infrastructures. 

The chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, Lindy Cameron, stated that these attacks are a bigger threat to the country than hostile states. In her speech to London’s Royal United Services Institute, Cameron discussed that UK businesses have quite a laissez-faire approach to these attacks and assume them to be something that can be dealt with during the natural course of business. In actual fact, Cameron highlighted that many states use their digital technology to seek political advantages or steal from target countries.

These concerns were expressed after a series of ransomware attacks, most notably upon the US Colonial Pipeline which supplies half of US East Coast motor fuel, and on the figurehead in the meat processing game, JBS. Despite animal slaughter not being a digital venture, the company was forced to close a significant amount of its plants worldwide when their IT systems were targeted. As this led to a concern surrounding the nation’s food supply, it is clear that these attacks can have a catastrophic knock-on effect. 

What's the big picture effect?

It truly is becoming a broken record statement but the global acceleration into a digital world leaves businesses no choice but to realise that they cannot function as standalone entities. This is a wake-up call that they must consider the domino effect of their commercial complications, and focus on strengthening their defences. After the attack on JBS, Biden is seeking to open a proposal with Putin in order to identify these cybercriminals. This shows that in instances where criminal activity is becoming purely digital, a new set of interstate deals will need to arise. 

Often, due to its anonymous nature, these ransoms are requested to be paid in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. By funding criminal activity, this highlights the darker side of cryptocurrency, which regulators are currently struggling to tackle.  

Law firms have expressed the need for businesses to start considering different approaches so that ransomware attacks can be effectively dealt with, especially considering a 60% increase of these attacks to 305m in 2020.  Additionally, law firms themselves are not immune to these attacks and moving forward, should consider these preventative measures for protection. We can see this from the law firm Gateley’s data hack in June 2021 which led to a 3% drop in their share price, and the realisation that firms lose on average 5% of their client base upon suffering a data breach. From undertaking risk assessments to holding IT service providers accountable for the extent of their cybersecurity measures, it is clear that businesses should take more proactive measures to stop themselves from becoming the digital hostage. 

Report written by Rida Ahmed

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