Australia: Pulling up the drawbridge: protecting yourself against cyber attacks Part 1

Clayton Utz Insights
Last Updated: 20 September 2015
Article by Alexandra Wedutenko

Most Read Contributor in Australia, August 2016

Key Points:

Having the latest technology is only one part of cyber security. You also need to train your people and have good corporate governance too.

The great disruption brought by the online revolution is not just disrupting business models ? it's created a new wave of business risks, not least cyber attacks.

Senior managers of your organisation are responsible for considering and addressing the risks of cyber attack. In the first part of this article, we'll sketch out the nature of the risks, and the ways senior managers can address them, starting with the simple activities such as educating staff to help manage cyber risks, through to corporate governance and systems accreditation. In the next issue we'll focus on the specific challenges of cloud computing.

How big is the problem of cyber threats in Australia?

Australia's relative wealth, high levels of online traffic and use of technology make it an attractive target for cyber adversaries.

In July this year, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) released its first ever unclassified cyber security threat report. The report, while perhaps not adding new concepts, demonstrates that "the cyber threat to Australian organisations is undeniable, unrelenting and continues to grow."

Cybercrime ? "criminal acts involving the use of computers or other ICT, or targeted against computers or other ICT" ? is a much more prevalent issue, with an estimated cost to Australia of $1.06 billion over a 12-month period (an estimate the report acknowledges might be too low).

What are cyber attackers trying to do?

Cyber attacks can come from criminals seeking to make money, business rivals seeking an advantage, or hacktivists (or even bored teenagers) seeking to make a point. Their goals can include:

  • getting information which they can reuse (such as customers' credit card numbers or identity theft, or industrial espionage);
  • affect your ability to perform your business or functions by seizing control of your systems or stopping them from operating effectively; or
  • hijacking your systems to use them for their own purposes (such as sending out millions of spam or scam emails).

A very common threat to organisations is the surreptitious addition of malicious software ("malware"), which can suck up information and send it to the attacker. A variant is ransomware, which "typically locks a computer's content and requires victims to pay a ransom or regain access." It can also involve a message alleging that the computer has been used for some illegal activity and demanding payment of a fine. This can cause related difficulties if the victim has not performed a recent backup.

How do they mount cyber attacks?

Cyber attacks will target your weakest links, which will often be human error. Critically, your people's failure to protect access to systems through poor passwords, password protection or betrayal will be the easiest way for cyber attackers to gain access.

The next level of sophistication is the use of social engineering techniques, such as carefully crafted emails to entice a user to click on a link or open an attachment, which are also known as spear phishing. This tricks the unwary into introducing software which can wreak havoc. Organisations with poor cyber security are especially vulnerable to spear phishing.

Even if your own staff is well trained, avoids spear phishing attempts and has secure passwords, cyber attackers can exploit technical backdoors left open by you or third parties.

For example, the growth of "bring your own device" practices and the blurring of the work/life distinction have meant more business is done on smart devices, which are relatively insecure and provide access to the firm's IT systems.

Another technique is the use of a watering-hole. This is a legitimate website, frequented by a cyber attacker's intended targets, which has been compromised ? malicious software has been covertly added to the site with the purpose of compromising viewers' computers. In 2014, the ACSC identified incidents involving watering-hole exploitation of websites frequently visited by Australian Government employees. The ACSC notes that this technique is no longer opportunistic, but has become an activity targeting Australian government and business.

Finally, there are the risks unique to cloud computing, which we'll consider in the second part of this article.

Future trends in cyber attacks

Although the ability to detect cyber threats continues to improve and the development of robust cyber defences is progressing, cyber adversaries are constantly improving their tradecraft to tackle network defences.

The ACSC report has predicted that both spear phishing and ransomware will continue to be popular, and there will be an increase in:

  • cyber criminals;
  • cybercrime-as-a-service;
  • the use of watering-hole techniques;
  • the number of cyber adversaries with destructive capability; and
  • electronic graffiti (eg. web defacements and social media hijacking).

How you can defend your organisation against cyber threats?

Any action has to start with your people. This means, as a bare minimum, training them to understand the risks of spear phishing and poor password security.

This must be backed up by good corporate governance across your organisation. Many people will have a crucial role to play in managing information security: the legal team, IT infrastructure and procurement team, the CEO and COO and whoever else is responsible for risk management, those with information security oversight and management (such as information security managers and the CIO), those with system/security design, development and implementation responsibilities and those who test, monitor and audit information systems. You should also consider getting external advice, both on technical and legal issues.

Of course, getting everyone in a room is only the first step. Responsibility should be assigned, and processes mapped ? and maintained. For example, you should look at using cyber drills or authorised attacks by third parties to test your systems periodically, create and update cyber risk protection documentation, maintain asset registers know what hardware is accessing your systems, and ensure all relevant systems are accredited.

A structured response to incidents is also a useful tool. This can be achieved by developing, implementing and then testing (annually) an incident response plan. This would ideally encompass responses to data spills, e-discovery of data and ways to obtain and analyse evidence (eg. time-synchronised logs, hard disk images, memory snapshots and metadata).

Finally, there is a lot of very useful guidance on the technical aspects of information security and protection from cyber attacks coming from the public sector. The US Government's National Institute of Standards and Technology's Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security, released in February 2014, sets out a risk-based approach which is evolving to meet new threats. Closer to home, there's the Australian Signals Directorate's four strategies:

  • application whitelisting;
  • patching applications (such as PDF readers, Microsoft Office, Java, Flash Player and web browsers);
  • patching operating system vulnerabilities and using the latest versions; and
  • minimising administrative privileges.

As the ACSC report notes, organisations must be proactive, invest resources in cyber security and implement measures to make them a harder target. This needs to be supported by Australia's ICT community, academia and decision-makers in the public and private sector, by keeping up to date with developments, identifying new vulnerabilities and advising Australian organisations on strategies to mitigate emerging threats. This will be critical to provide a high degree of confidence in network and information security and to enable government departments, private entities and Australians generally to enjoy the benefits of the internet.

You might also be interested in...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.