Every eight minutes, Australia records a cybercrime. In total, 67,500 cybercrimes were reported last year. One assumes others go unreported. None of us is immune from this criminal activity. Last year these attacks increased by 13%.

It costs us. Lots. $33 billion last year in Australia. And the world over, it’s estimated it costs in the trillions of dollars. Ultimately, those costs flow back to us, the consumer and the taxpayer, through higher prices and costs.

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The attacks on our computer and information technology networks are increasing. It can be someone hacking into your Facebook account causing social embarrassment, or emptying your bank account, or holding a business to ransom for millions of dollars, as JBS Abattoirs recently experienced

It can also involve espionage and stealing sensitive information and intellectual property.

It’s serious business. It’s a worrying business. Malicious cyber activity is big business with rich rewards attracting the criminal syndicates and the less than savoury state actors.

Ransomware attacks increased by 15%. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Locking you out of your computer systems and data until a ransom is paid is, of course, blackmail.

These attacks on Australians, businesses, organisations and government instrumentalities are increasing and costing us more and more, as is the never-ending task of protecting ourselves from each advance in technology designed to overcome the latest protection. And so, the ever-escalating development and the associated ever-escalating costs have the IT sector and cyber protection people in business in a not so virtuous cycle.

We can take some basic measures to avoid fraud and business disruption, including using strong passphrases, enabling two-factor authentication, updating software and devices, and maintaining regular data backups, as well as being on guard against malicious emails and texts. (It’s assumed the writer is not the only one receiving plentiful text messages telling him his non-ordered parcel has arrived.)

In releasing the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Annual Cyber Threat Report, the Assistant Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie, said:

“Approximately one quarter of reported cyber security incidents affected critical infrastructure organisations, including essential services that all Australians require, such as education, communications, electricity, water and transport. The health sector reported the second-highest number of ransomware incidents right at a time when Australians are most reliant on our health workers to help us respond and recover through the pandemic”.

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The Report highlights the extent of the problem we face. The Cyber Security Hotline had an increase in calls of 310%, totalling 22,000 such calls.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre issued 39 alerts and advisories to help combat urgent and critical threats, which were viewed over 7.8 million times and it removed over 7700 websites hosting cybercrime activity. The average reported loss from business email compromise was around $50,600, up 54% from the previous year.

And Commonwealth, State, Territory and local government accounted for approximately one-third of all cyber security incidents.

Given these alarming statistics, with horrendous social and financial consequences, it seems high time for a cyber security summit to ensure our cybersecurity readiness is at its very best. Such a summit of industry experts, business leaders, and government agencies, together with academia, should discuss the future of Australia’s cybersecurity and its vital role in protecting jobs and businesses, individual and household privacy and finances, and our institutions and government departments.

There is no doubt the Australian Government has done and continues to do an outstanding job in tandem with the business sector and institutions. Nevertheless, the wisdom of holding a cyber security summit is as unassailable as it would be beneficial.

With all the various strands of cyber security defence coming together, there will be the obvious benefit of cooperation and sharing, which has always been part of the Australian ethos. Harnessing that spirit by way of collaboration between our private sector technology world leaders such as Senetas and educators will be of real benefit for all.

As the reliance on technology and remote working gains popularity and practice, the best possible protection for all can be achieved through a much-needed national cybersecurity summit. In the meantime, support is provided by the ACSC, which is contactable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via email asd.assist@defence.gov.au or by calling the Australian Cyber Security Hotline on 1300 CYBER1 (1300 292 371). 

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Senator Eric Abetz is one of the longest serving federal parliamentarians in Australia, representing Tasmania in the Liberal Party since early 1994. He emigrated to Australia from Germany with his family at a very young age, and his father worked alongside many other immigrants on the Tasmanian Hydro Schemes. He worked as a part-time taxi driver and farm hand while studying Arts and Law at the University of Tasmania, and has been a member of the Liberal Party since 1976.

His Parliamentary career is long and distinguished, and the full details can be read here.

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