Bruce Bechly got a rude shock when he tried to fire up the computers one morning at the camping and fishing store he manages in Broome.
The store’s point-of-sale data had been locked by cyber attackers, who were demanding a $5,000 ransom to release it.
“At first we thought it was a hoax, but after we genuinely couldn’t open our database we started looking into it a bit more,” he said.
The database held crucial business information, but the store’s owners refused to pay the ransom.
It resulted in the loss of a month’s worth of sale and stock data.
“We were just afraid that we’d get flagged as an easier target for future attacks so we decided not to pay the ransom but decided to install the last backup we had,” Mr Bechley said.
The incursion forced Mr Bechley to triple his cyber security, in a bid to stave off a threat also troubling the big end of town.
Mining companies ‘vulnerable’
The risk of cyber attack has become an increasing global conundrum for individuals, businesses and governments.
Cyber crime expert Professor Craig Valli said some of WA’s biggest mining and oil and gas operations were run by old computers, which were vulnerable to attack.
“If anyone can remember back to Atari Pong days, they’ve got that level of computer and they’re running major pieces of critical infrastructure,” he said.
He said there could be serious economic consequences if there was a sustained cyber attack on critical infrastructure, like water utilities, ports, or oil and gas platforms.
Autonomous trains and trucks used in the WA mining industry were also vulnerable, he said.
“The potential for damage is massive,” Mr Valli said.
“A computer’s very good at doing what you tell it. And so if you tell it to drive off the edge of the cliff, it’ll do it.”
Cyber attack ‘a matter of when not if’
Cyber security is a sensitive issue, and none of the major Perth-based resources companies was prepared to comment when contacted by the ABC.
But that does not mean risk is being ignored.
Perth start-up SC8 Technologies is developing strategies for a number of companies to help fend off cyber attacks.
“Absolutely top of mind for all of them … they’re very concerned about cyber security,” chief executive Gary Hale said.
He said businesses were reliant on automation to remain globally competitive, so it was matter of preparing for when, not if, attackers hit.
“How do we enable business to drive that innovation and agility but also be able to recover, have a resilient capability to recover if something should go wrong?” he said.
Mr Valli, who is the director of Edith Cowan University’s Security Research Institute, said until recently, many WA many businesses felt protected by the state’s geographic isolation.
“Why do I need to bother or why would they target me, but we can no longer be complacent about that,” he said.