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How cyberattacks impact different sectors

Cybercrime has been around for as long as digital technology. It has, sadly, grown along with the internet. Realistically, it’s far too much to hope that cybercriminals will disappear.

What’s more, hope is not a strategy. This means that you need to understand the cybersecurity landscape and what it means for your business type.

An overview of cybersecurity

As the world has moved online so the instances of cyberattacks have increased. Realistically, it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be a complete picture of the development of cybercrime. It’s common knowledge that companies often failed to report cybercrime before 2018 when GDPR was introduced.

Even with GDPR, cybercrime probably goes unreported. Firstly, GDPR only applies in certain parts of the world. Secondly, GDPR only requires companies to report breaches if it’s likely to result in a risk to any individual’s rights and freedoms. Thirdly, it’s anybody’s guess how many companies really are complying with the GDPR reporting mandate.

Luke Watts, Managing Director at RoundWorks IT, said; “What is clear, is that cybercrime is both a real threat and a growing one. Cybercriminals can attack literally any company of any size. Nobody is “too small to be a target” (or too big). With that said, there are certain sectors that stand out as particularly vulnerable. These include the government, banking, healthcare, schools and the energy sector.”

The first two of these are likely to come as no surprise. They’re also probably of relatively little relevance to the average person. Even the smallest government organizations and banks are likely to be relatively large and/or have serious budgets and a lot of cybersecurity expertise.

The other three sectors, however, are very relevant and teach useful lessons to other sectors.

Healthcare

Healthcare providers around the world need access to all kinds of personal data. Even in the UK, this can include payment data.

This in itself makes them an attractive target for cybercriminals. There are, however, darker reasons for the healthcare industry being a target for cyberattacks.

By definition, the healthcare industry deals with people who have health problems. If their access to healthcare is disrupted, these people may literally die.

This means that any cybercriminal who could hold a vital system to ransom could expect to name their price. Alternatively, they might choose to allow people to die to make a point.

These scenarios might seem far-fetched but they are sadly only too real. Probably the most infamous example of an attack on a healthcare provider was the WannaCry attack of 2017.

This crippled the NHS due to its reliance on antiquated infrastructure. This remains a major point of vulnerability.

Ironically, however, the move to modernization also carries risks. Possibly the most obvious example of this is the fact that digital records can be attacked remotely in a way that physical ones cannot.

A less obvious example is the way healthcare providers (like many other sectors) are increasingly using “smart” devices connected to the “internet of things”. These can also provide open doors for cyberattackers.

Education

Education providers also have access to large quantities of highly personal data sometimes including payment data.

Tertiary education providers also tend to have access to large quantities of cutting-edge research and significant computing power.

This computer power can be put to many nefarious purposes. Probably the most popular is being used to mine for cryptocurrency.

Primary and secondary schools are also in a similar position to the NHS in that they work with people who would generally be considered vulnerable. In this case, the vulnerability is due to age rather than health.

While tertiary education providers generally work with people who are legally adults, they are still very young adults and hence still at least fairly vulnerable.

This vulnerability can lead to education providers feeling under pressure to cooperate with cybercriminals to prevent pupils’/students’ details from being leaked online or sold.

Added to this, the nature of education means that education providers are often working under time pressure. This is currently particularly acute due to the disruption caused by COVID19.

Furthermore, like the healthcare industry, education is adapting to technology. It was doing so long before the pandemic. In fact, it has really no alternative given that its job is essentially to prepare children and (young) adults for a world that is becoming more reliant on technology.

During 2020, many education providers had to move wholly or substantially to online learning and working to cope with COVID19. This made them even more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

The energy sector

The main reason why the energy sector is such an attractive target for cybercriminals is, again, the amount of personal data they hold.

In simple terms, everyone needs energy, therefore energy companies typically hold data relating to people of all demographic sectors. What’s more, many of the established energy companies have a lot of legacy technology still to dismantle.

This legacy technology isn’t just in its standard IT network. A lot of it is out “in the wild” for example, literally in people’s homes. Even though both the industry and the government have pushed hard for people to move to smart meters, not everyone can or wishes to do so.

What’s more, the switch to smart meters brings its own set of problems.

Firstly, smart meters are dependent on an internet connection. In fact, they generally need a fairly strong one. If this is removed, then they become useless. This opens the door to old-fashioned meter fraud going undetected.

Secondly, as with all connected devices, they are vulnerable to tampering. The main reason for this is likely to be meter fraud but concerns have been raised about the potential for data theft.

The energy sector is also highly reliant on technology to monitor the safety of its operations. Again, this technology is often implemented over a wide geographical area with minimal human oversight. Its importance to safety (and efficiency) is such that companies literally cannot afford to risk it being compromised.

Cyberattackers, therefore, know that if they can attack this infrastructure successfully, they can almost certainly extract a huge ransom from their victim.