Cyber gangs target small businesses for scams

Cyber gangs target small businesses for scams

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications Ossian Smyth, said cyber security has become increasingly important for small businesses. Picture: Leah Farrell/

Struggling small businesses confronted with spiralling energy costs also need to invest time and money on their cyber security, the Government has said.

Minister of State Ossian Smyth said estimates that it will cost the HSE around €760m to bring its cyber security systems up to standard after  the devastating cyber attack of 2021 indicated “how expensive” in can be to respond to such a crisis if resources weren’t allocated to prevention.

The junior minister in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communication was joined by Justice Minister Helen McEntee at the launch of an awareness campaign for European Cyber Security Month.

Accompanied by the heads of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) they warned of a rising threat of:

  • Ransomware attacks on small businesses, as cyber gangs shift away from major multinationals to “more vulnerable” targets.
  • Scam emails, tests and calls (phishing), particularly those targeting vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, in a bid to steal their money.

Minister Smyth said at the time of the HSE attack, the gangs concentrated on what is termed “big game hunting” – Governments and big corporate companies – in a bid to get ransoms of €10-€20m out of them. He said: 

Now that's changed and we're seeing a lot of attacks on much smaller organizations, on SMEs.

Expensive task

Asked could small business owners afford investing in cyber security when they are grappling with soaring energy costs, Mr Smyth said: “I guess the question could be, can they afford not to?” 

He cited the costs in building up the HSE’s security systems: “I guess that's an indication of how expensive it is to deal with a cyber attack if you haven't spent the money beforehand to get there.” 

He said there was information on the NCSC website on protecting systems, adding: “A lot of those things are not expensive.” 

Assistant commissioner Paul Cleary, head of organised and serious crime, said the GNCCB regularly receives reports of ransomware infections that have “locked down company networks”, with companies pressured into paying ransoms. He warned against paying them:

Less than 10% of companies that pay the ransom to cybercriminals will get all of their data back. And there's always the concern that cyber criminals would have kept a copy.

Vulnerable targets

Richard Browne, director of NCSC, said there has been a “pivot” in recent months among cyber gangs away from big targets to small businesses, because they are less well protected.

Commenting on what security the State is providing to protect internet and energy cables, an issue highlighted in the Irish Examiner recently, Ms McEntee said that given the “attacks” seen recently, her department, along with An Garda Síochána, the Department of Defence, and the Department of Communications were working together "to make sure the infrastructure is protected and, where necessary, appropriate surveillance".

Minister Smyth said the internet, gas and electricity cables are “critical infrastructure” and added:

"There's obviously increased tension now in Europe about that and the Department of Defence is engaging with my Department and [Justice] about how they can best protect them."

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