The global ransomware attack has exposed fears Australian small business is most vulnerable to online scams and hacking, with the Turnbull government and key lobby groups urging owners to beef up their cyber security.
While Australian businesses seemed to largely avoid the chaos, both the government and experts have warned small business lacks the resources and knowledge to ward off cyber crooks.
“We may have dodged a bullet this time but rest assured there will be another bullet we’ll have to dodge in the future,” Assistant Cyber Security Minister Dan Tehan told The Australian Financial Review.
Late on Monday, no critical infrastructure or government services had been hit, while just eight businesses reported that they were likely victims.
The Prime Minister’s Cyber Security Advisor Alastair MacGibbon and officials from the Australian Cyber Security Centre have launched an investigation into how Australia avoided the worst of the attack, which hit 200,000 companies and organisations in 150 countries by locking computers and holding users’ files for ransom.
They would look at the timing of the weekend attack, the measures put in place to respond and whether it was targeted just at Europe.
Mr Tehan said cyber crooks attempted to hijack hundreds of computer systems and data every couple of weeks but the scale of the problem may be under-reported.
Attacks were particularly devastating for small businesses, which suffered reputational damage as well as the dilemma of whether to pay the ransom.
“Our recommendation is not to pay the criminals but ultimately that’s up to the business owner,” he said.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said while big companies and the government understood the threat of cyber attack, many small businesses did not fully appreciate the problem.
“Often the people running them aren’t fully aware of the risks and don’t have the tools available to mitigate them,” he said.
“I hope that the publicity given to this latest ransomware attack will be a wake-up call for small and medium businesses across the country.”
Cyber security experts were keen to point out that the danger from WannaCry has not yet passed.
They warned it was still too early for all organisations to know if they had been infected, with the possibility of follow-up and copycat attacks.
Senior Director of Secunia Research at technology firm Flexera Software Kasper Lindgaard said organisations had little excuse for being caught out.
“Frankly, if you wait two months to apply a critical Microsoft patch, you’re doing something wrong,” he said.
“This time, we even had a warning in April that this could very likely happen, so businesses need to wake up and start taking these types of threats and risks seriously. There is simply no excuse.”
Flexera published research showing almost 9.9 per cent of Australian PC users had unpatched Windows operating systems in the first quarter of 2017, which was worse than the 7.5 per cent last quarter and 5.9 per cent this time last year.
Jon Paior, the founder of Australian tech company Geek Ltd, which specialises in recovering criminally encrypted data, said it was likely that the WannaCry attack was not yet done and dusted. He said it should also make local businesses consider their strategy for other ransomware attacks, which are increasingly common.
“The fact that Australia has dodged this bullet should not invite complacency. Everyone with a PC should make sure it contains the latest software updates to provide maximum protection against these sorts of threats,” he said.
“It’s very likely that someone will reverse engineer this ransomware worm to generate an updated version which you can guarantee will not contain a ‘kill switch’.”