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Cyber threats growing in frequency, sophistication

Cyber threats

Australian lenders and super funds have not yet suffered significant losses from a cyber attack, but they need to practice “continued vigilance” as attacks increase in frequency and sophistication.

The latest insight from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has revealed that while Aussie banks, lenders, health insurers and super funds have not suffered significant hits from cyber attacks, they need to be constantly on alert.

“Institutions must recognise there is no ‘finish line’ for cyber risk management, which requires ongoing vigilance, improvement, investment and oversight,” APRA said, revealing that leaking of sensitive data and phishing attacks were major concerns,” the regulator said.

“Organised crime remained industry’s greatest cyber concern. In APRA’s view, entities must consider both external and internal threats, with internal threats able to more easily bypass perimeter and other controls. Vigilance over access management (particularly privileged access) and effective oversight of controls at trusted third parties and offshore locations is essential.”


It highlighted the six most common types of cyber attacks reported by APRA-regulated institutions and called for a “strategic focus on cyber resilience”.

Cyber attacks in which digital services are “overwhelmed” by fake requests, thus blocking legitimate users’ access and the use of ransomware and other malware were the most common attacks.

However, hacking of internet facing platforms in which attackers executed commands to create and delete files, leakage of sensitive data via employees’ external email addresses and phishing attacks also made the list.

“In one instance, online banking credentials used by an entity’s finance department were compromised,” APRA said about the phishing attacks.

“An unknown third party used these credentials to change recipient details for an existing payment, but ‘maker-checker’ controls detected the unauthorised change before payment was made.”

APRA argued that this highlights the importance of customer and staff awareness about cyber safety and the appropriate fraud stop loss controls.

However, the regulator also registered the uptake in cyber insurance policies. Seventy-four per cent of the entities surveyed had a policy while 17 per cent were considering taking up a policy in the coming year.

While some had liability limits in excess of $500 million, most limits tended to stay between $1 million and $100 million.

“Cyber risk management requires ongoing vigilance, improvement, investment and oversight,” APRA continued, warning that no entity can guard itself against “every conceivable threat”.

It called on entities to strengthen or establish preventative and detective measures grounded in intelligence and risk awareness.

“While cyber insurance is useful, it is an evolving area and cannot always redress the reputational and other damage resulting from a high-impact cyber incident,” APRA said.

“Basic cyber hygiene, including a disciplined approach to maintaining the health of information assets, vigilance regarding access management (particularly privileged access) and oversight of controls at trusted third parties, are essential so as not to undermine strategic security investments or unnecessarily increase risk.”

According to a survey by security software company CyberArk, 50 per cent of organisations did not "fully inform" customers of data breaches. 

The survey, released in mid-December, also revealed that 53 per cent of Australian respondents do not believe the organisations they use would be "completely prepared for a breach investigation". 

Additionally, 41 per cent of respondents said they didn't have a sufficient knowledge on organisations' security policies. 

CyberArk regional director, Australia and New Zealand, Matthew Brazier said, “As we’ve seen in incidents at Yahoo!, Uber and more, companies have a tendency to downplay breaches either through complete non-disclosure of events, or by only partially disclosing the extent to which systems and data have been breached.

“If it continues, this approach will have tangible consequences in 2018. The Notifiable Data Breaches legislation comes into force from 22 February 2018, and with it considerable fines for lack of compliance."

The Notifiable Data Breaches scheme includes an obligation for organisations to notify individuals whose data was involved in a data breach, along with fines for compliance failures. 

"What’s concerning about CyberArk’s findings is that poor security practices continue to be upheld, despite the increased awareness of cyber security risks and the prevalence of high profile cyber attacks in the headlines," Mr Brazier concluded.

Cyber threats growing in frequency, sophistication
Cyber threats
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