Cyber threats to Northern Ireland businesses are growing but almost half of those surveyed at a major cyber seminar do not know what to do in the event of an attack.

This is the key finding of a seminar in Belfast,  co-hosted by Barclays and Grant Thornton.  Guests from a wide range of businesses and sectors attended the Cyber Security: Staying Safe briefing at Barclays Eagle Lab, Ormeau Baths in Belfast.

The event focused on the race to safeguard businesses of all sizes against cyber-attack as digital technology makes it easier for criminals to commit fraud.  A panel of expert security insiders shared their insights and expert tips to help businesses to avoid being ripped off by online criminals.  They highlighted that it’s not simply funds at risk, but vital data, which is of high value to fraudsters.

Around 100 local business representatives attending the event were polled about their experience of cyber-attacks and their level of preparedness in the event of a cyber attack.

The results revealed that:

  • 50% of those businesses polled had suffered a cyber-attack of some kind. 
  • Although 65% claimed that their business has a strategic plan of action, 46% stated they did not know exactly what to do in the event of an attack. 
  • 80% agreed that there is a need to learn more about the threat and nature of cyber-crime.

The expert panel from Barclays and Grant Thornton, which also included the Detective Inspector Alistair Burns of the PSNI’s Cyber Crime Unit, shared their insights and advice.  All speakers agreed that proactivity and innovation are vital to stay one step ahead of the highly sophisticated criminal “companies” which operate in a very organised way to defraud small and medium sized businesses of their hard-earned profits.

Joanna McArdle, Relationship Director, Barclays Northern Ireland, said: “Cyber-criminals are employing ever-more sophisticated ways of attacking businesses. They are also quick to find new ways to work around the banks’ responses, so we all have to get smarter and be more prepared.  With inadequate preparation and precautions, companies are unwittingly leaving themselves open to an ever-increasing threat.”

Gillian Tong, who works in Barclays’ UK Digital Security team, provided a live demonstration of Barclays innovative new Biometric Reader technology – a first-of-its-kind solution, enabling users to log in and approve payments using finger vein reader technology.

Joanna continued, “This new biometric technology is another example of Barclays’ industry-leading digital innovation.  However, we believe that all banks must invest in safeguarding their customers.  In addition to our own internal systems, Barclays offers digital safety skills training and advice to businesses of all sizes.  Today’s event poll reveals that there’s a lot more to be done to raise awareness of the potential vulnerabilities businesses are now facing, but by sharing simple checks and measures to protect against possible attacks, we aim to allow more of our clients to bank with greater peace of mind.”

Andrew Harbison, Director of Forensic and Investigation Services at Grant Thornton, said: “All firms, no matter their size, can fall victim to cyber criminals, and there are many examples of high-profile local businesses suffering major breaches.

“In the face of an ever-increasing threat, the challenge for all companies is to establish robust practices to ensure only the most necessary data is held on file, and that it is stored as securely as possible.

“Grant Thornton works with firms across many sectors of the economy, through our dedicated cyber security and forensic and investigation teams, to advise on best practice in the ongoing fight against cybercrime.

“Today’s event revealed a few interesting statistics about awareness of cyber security amongst local businesses, and we hope the insights shared will encourage people to ensure they are fully aware of what they should do if their business suffers a cyber attack.”

The seminar also heard from Detective Inspector Alistair Burns of the PSNI, who, alongside an eye-watering roll call of the common business practices which are open to exploitation by criminals, outlined some simple steps to help firms protect their assets.  From valuable data being held to ransom, to clearing out of business accounts, the picture he painted was a stark one.

Alistair said: “Recent figures indicate just under 50% of UK businesses experienced a cyber incident in 2016. Be it ransomware, network intrusion, DDOS or business email compromise, Northern Ireland businesses continue to fall victim to a wide range of cyber-dependant and cyber-enabled crimes resulting in data loss, stolen funds, recovery costs and the potential to threaten local jobs.

“Working alongside national and international partners, the PSNI Cyber Crime Centre, with the support of local businesses can make a positive contribution towards reducing the risks posed by cybercrime to the local economy.”