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Irish businesses warned over ransomware threats

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid

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Irish small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) have been advised to be on alert for cyber attacks.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) have warned business owners of an increased threat of ransomware.

In a letter sent to Ibec’s Small Firms Association, the NCSC and GNCCB said they had observed a “a trend of small and medium-sized businesses being increasingly targeted by ransomware groups”.

The NCSC and GNCCB said in the past these groups typically focussed on larger organisations, however “recently there have been several smaller Irish businesses impacted by ransomware”.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Often ransomware gangs also threaten to leak sensitive stolen data if a ransom is not paid. In May 2021, the Health Service Executive was the victim of a devastating ransomware attack which crippled the central IT systems and had a significant impact on the delivery of health services nationwide.

The director of the NCSC, Richard Browne, said: “We have been dealing with the threat of ransomware for some time; however, we have seen a noticeable change in the tactics of criminal ransomware groups, whereby rather than largely focussing on governments, critical infrastructure and big business, they are increasingly targeting smaller businesses. This is a trend that has been observed globally, and Ireland is no exception with several businesses becoming victims of these groups in the past number of weeks.”

In their joint letter to Ibec, the NCSC and GNCCB reiterated the measures that SMEs can take to prevent and recover from cyber-attacks such as ransomware, referring to several guidance documents that have been published by the NCSC on the topic.

“Whilst we appreciate that many business owners are understandably nervous of the threat ransomware poses, there are some straightforward security measures that can be put in place to ensure that an organisations data and systems remain secure,” Dr Browne added.

Business owners have also been urged to report incidents to both the NCSC and An Garda Síochána who may be able to support victims of cyber-attacks.

Detective Chief Superintendent Cleary said: “Reporting incidents allows us to fully investigate these cyber-crimes and helps us to identify trends and methods used by attackers so we can provide cyber safety and network protection advice to the public and the corporate sector”.

Meanwhile, the Director of Ibec’s Small Firms Association, Sven Spollen-Behrens said the latest warning “tallies with what we are hearing from our membership who are increasingly worried about the threat posed by cybercrime”.

"The advice provided is very helpful and we’re eager to work with the authorities to ensure our membership are putting in place the right protections to defend against these attacks,” he added.

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