Hackers 'costing Northern Ireland economy nearly £100m a year'
Cyber crime is costing the Northern Ireland economy almost £100 million a year, new research has found.
Companies of all sizes are also being targeted by hackers and online fraudsters, according to a new report by consultancy firm Grant Thornton.
Cyber security expert Mike Harris said: "The challenge is that it is an international crime.
"You don't have to sit in Northern Ireland to attack Northern Ireland companies. You can be anywhere in the world. The eco-system that is developed is international; it is highly organised, it is very efficient and it is heavily automated."
Over 2,500 business leaders in 36 economies were surveyed for the report, including 35 in Northern Ireland.
It found that financial services are the businesses targeted the most.
The annual cost of cyber crime to the Northern Ireland economy stands at £98.71 million. This figure includes t ax fraud (£37.7m), welfare fraud (£6.14m) and tax filing fraud (£1.67m).
The survey also revealed that copyright infringing software has an average annual cost of £19.13m locally, with cyber crime clean-up costs totalling £12.5m and copyright infringing music costing £1.35m.
Across Ireland, the annual cost of cyber crime is £451.76 million while globally, the figure is £173,214 million.
Mr Harris said companies must be more vigilant.
He added: "The challenge for organisations is to manage the risk beforehand. The one key thing is the awareness among staff.
"The other parts are having the right policies and the right technologies in place.
"The cyber criminals don't care who they steal money off - they are not specifically targeting your organisation but they will do what works."
Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Grant, from the PSNI special investigations and cyber crime centre, said: "We need a collective approach to dealing with this type of criminality and protecting businesses from becoming victims.
"I would encourage businesses, whatever their size, to take pre-emptive action by signing up to cyber essentials, a government-backed scheme which provides clarity on good, basic cyber security practice."