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Cyber crooks cost Northern Ireland businesses £100m

By John Mulgrew

Published 10/11/2015

Co Antrim businesswoman, Shirley Palmer
Co Antrim businesswoman, Shirley Palmer

Online cybercrime is costing Northern Ireland businesses up to £100m each year - from multi-nationals to one-man shops.

And it's likely a major Northern Ireland firm could be brought to the point of closure as the result of an attack, it's been claimed.

That's according to new research from Grant Thornton, which lays bare the true impact on firms here.

Businesses are being targeted in a number of ways, including so-called "phishing" attacks, asking for personal information, and traditional crimes moving online, such as credit card fraud. And the incidence is almost doubling each year, right across the globe.

The cost of cleaning up is also estimated to cost almost £17m a year in Northern Ireland alone.

And it's companies from big name tech giants, to independents, that are increasingly at risk.

Mike Harris, partner of cyber security at Grant Thornton, presented the findings in the advisory firm's Belfast offices yesterday.

"Cybercrime dominates media coverage and Northern Ireland is no different. Data breaches, online fraud, copyright and patent infringements are costing the Northern Ireland economy almost £17m annually in the clean-up process. That doesn't include the downtime in business operations and systems."

A total of 35 companies were quizzed as part of the global survey. It's estimated crimes cost the UK around £20bn, with the true impact globally sitting at almost £600bn.

He revealed one financial services firm in Northern Ireland was scammed out of £80,000. It was targeted by someone claiming to be from its bank, who built up a long-running relationship, before asking for account log-in details. In another case elsewhere, a chain of opticians was targeted in an email scam, with a virus spreading across the company, demanding payment for files being "unlocked".

Fraudsters are increasingly using fake emails and websites to target individuals and businesses, including asking for tax payments or updating personal online details.

PSNI chief inspector Douglas Grant, of the special investigations and cybercrime centre, said the report "highlights the need for businesses at every level to protect themselves from the threats posed" by online attacks.

"Police are committed to investigating reports of online criminality but, in many cases, the damage has already been done," he said.

"We need a collective approach to dealing with this type of criminality and protecting businesses from becoming victims."

Just last week, TalkTalk announced that the details of 156,959 customers and 15,656 bank account numbers were accessed during a major cyber-attack.

And earlier this year, the Belfast Telegraph revealed how Co Antrim businesswoman, Shirley Palmer, was forced to hand over hundreds of pounds after hackers took over her computer and held it to ransom.

Hackers corrupted and encrypted all her personal files, after Ms Palmer - who runs a business-coaching firm in London - clicked a seemingly innocuous YouTube link on Facebook.

On a global level, one in six businesses surveyed have suffered a cyber-attack in the last year.

Mike Harris encouraged firms here to make sure they have sufficient security in place, such as firewalls, and to ensure staff are trained and informed of how to spot and deal with fake 'phishing' emails.

Belfast Telegraph

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