Mark Goding is a computer expert who helps keep the region's businesses safe from cyber attacks.
Mark Goding is a computer expert who helps keep the region's businesses safe from cyber attacks. Renee Albrecht

How hackers can hold 2000 Gympie businesses to ransom

ABOUT 2000 Gympie businesses risk being held to ransom by greedy hackers because of lax computer system security, experts say.

A new report by BDO Australia and AusCERT shows 48% of small and medium enterprises do not conduct regular cyber risk assessments, leaving them open to technology-based crimes.

Based on the 2016 Cyber Security Survey findings, this means at least 2072 of Gympie's 4318 businesses could be in the firing line.

The biggest risk to our businesses is ransomware, with new research by virus software company Kaspersky Lab showing the attacks rose from one every two minutes to one every 40 seconds in Australia over the past 11 months.

Ransomware - or cryptolock - hacks usually happen when an unsuspecting email recipient opens a message purporting to be from reputable and trusted big name organisations such as Australia Post.

Unwitting recipients will click on a link that results in malicious software being installed on, and crippling, their employer's computer system.

Unprepared businesses can be forced to pay a ransom to have their data released.

The ransom will increase depending on the type and amount of data on the business's server and it is always paid in untraceable bitcoins.

One bitcoin is worth about $1000.

BDO cyber security national leader Leon Fouche said small business operators such as clothing retailers, health services and private education providers were more likely to pay the ransoms because they could be significantly cheaper than upgrading their security systems.

Mr Fouche said there was no guarantee the cryptolocker would not block the business's system again and there was also an increased risk of sensitive client information being stolen.

"Ransomware is such an easy way to actually get into organisations' environments because it exploits vulnerabilities and it can be done on a wide scale," Mr Fouche said.

"The hackers don't charge a lot of money for the ransom so it's probably easier for people to pay."

Gympie technology expert Mark Goding CORRECT said businesses needed daily data backup and clear instructions for all staff to avoid clicking on unexpected email attachments or links.

"There are lots of different ways that you can try and protect your system but a lot of the cost can go beyond what many small businesses can afford," the Gold City Computers director said.

"You can put in some better equipment and a firewall.

"It's a fight that is ongoing - they're preying on the vulnerability of people."

Phishing - where hackers access systems to obtain usernames, passwords, credit card details and other information - is a common attack; as is the release of system-crippling malware or Trojan infections. - ARM NEWSDESK