Belfast Telegraph

Don't be held to ransom by hackers, cyber-expert warns


By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland companies cannot allow having to pay hackers ransom to "become just a normal part of business", a top PSNI cyber-crime expert has warned.

Detective chief inspector Dougie Grant was speaking as thousands packed in to St George's Market in Belfast for this year's Digital DNA tech event.

Companies such as Deloitte, YouTube, Newry's financial technology firm First Derivatives and Google were among those speaking and attending the event, which continues at St George's Market today.

The event is led by Gareth Quinn, who hosted the first Digital DNA in Belfast five years ago.

Mr Grant, PSNI cyber crime expert, said while he understood why businesses don't always come forward to police, it's something they must do.

"We are aware that some businesses keep bitcoin reserves to pay ransoms," he said.

"We cannot allow this to become just normal in business. We cannot allow this to control our businesses.

"We do have frequent occasions where people don't pay ransoms, and nothing happens.

"... the first thing is, you have to report it to the police. Even if you decide to pay, that's your decision."

He was speaking alongside business owners on a panel about being targeted by malicious ransomware attacks.

Declan Flynn, managing director of property firm Lisney, spoke about his company's own cyber attack.

"It has made us think," he said.

Mr Flynn said the company did not report the attack to the police at the time.

"We didn't, nor did we feel there was a need to report it."

Asked on the panel whether he would he have paid a ransom, he said it would depend on whether it was coming close to employees' pay day.

"That really depends... it's not an easy question. What if I couldn't pay somebody? What if it was the end of the month?

"If someone needs their wages or their mortgage paid, you can't not do that. The answer (as to whether I would pay it) depends on when I was asked, how much money it was. The risk is... they could go back in to it again.

"If your business is closed down for a week or 10 days, you have a very good chance of going bust, so you have to balance that out."

Meanwhile, YouTube's head of sales in Ireland, Ruth McEntee, said that people in the UK are now watching 60% more video, in the space of just one year.

"I started at Google in 2005. There was just text, and people weren't consuming video like they are now.

"By 2020, the year that Kanye West has decided to run for President, it will also be the year that 80% of the world's internet traffic will be video."

She said the demand for consuming video in the UK and Ireland has skyrocketed.

"We see 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every single minute," she said.

Meanwhile, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, James Sherrett, senior technology strategist for tech firm Slack, said he's not worried about the impact of Brexit on business.

The company, which employs around 800 staff across the globe, is a communication platform for teams, which pulls together messages, files and notifications. It now has five million users.

Mr Sherrett was speaking at Digital DNA about innovation.

The company has offices across the US and Europe, including San Francisco, London and Dublin.

"The Digital DNA conference has been terrific. The talk I gave was a surprise for me... how receptive people were. Some of the brands that are here, the sponsors, are terrific.

"I had some questions earlier about Brexit and how that might affect things. To be honest, the UK is the second largest software market in the world and we continue to see it as an expanding opportunity for us, Brexit or not.

"I think it is a huge opportunity to lead the world in a digital way."

Belfast Telegraph