A wave of high-profile cyberattacks recently hit hospitals, businesses and organizations in Ontario, including the LCBO this week and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and Scouts Canada in December.
The Canadian Press spoke to cybersecurity experts to find out if cyberattacks are on the rise, why they’re happening and what individuals and businesses can do to protect themselves.
Are cyberattacks happening more often?
These attacks are “absolutely happening” more frequently than before, says Robert Falzon, chief engineering officer of cybersecurity firm Check Point Canada, noting that it’s something that’s likely to happen daily now.
One of the reasons for this is the growing access to technology that enables the development of malware, scripts and other tools for would-be hackers such as the AI-powered ChatGPT computer program.
“It has the ability for someone who doesn’t have a lot of skills or maybe not even a good command of the English language to create a complete, almost flawless script to use in an attack on someone. one in a phone scam or an email phishing scam or what have you,” Falzon says.
“In the past, (hackers and scammers) relied on their own grammar and spelling skills, which a lot of people were often able to identify and say, ‘oh, that sounds like a scam.’ They are getting harder and harder to detect now.
Charles Finlay, founding executive director of the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst Center at Metropolitan University of Toronto, agrees that these attacks are on the rise, especially those that hit SickKids on Dec. 18, which affected phone lines and internal clinical systems and delayed laboratory and imaging results. .
“They’re increasing in Western democracies,” Finlay says. “It’s a serious problem, a serious challenge, which is getting more and more serious.”
Another reason for the increase, he says, is that the ransomware industry is growing as a multi-billion dollar global criminal industry.
“It’s backed by sovereign countries that harbor ransomware attackers, and ransomware attacks have proven to be very lucrative,” says Finlay, noting that cyberattacks are also increasing as our reliance on technology increases.
Are public bodies targeted?
Falzon says Check Point Canada has seen malware specifically developed to be deployed against a particular company or entity, what they call campaigns.
“They’re either using phishing or an even more advanced version of phishing called whaling, where it appears to come from an executive asking his employees to do XYZ,” Falzon says. “And as soon as they open, click or do anything in that email, they end up infecting the organization.
Hackers will target any organization they think they can get a ransom from, Finlay says, which is one reason the attacks seem to be getting more aggressive.
“The larger the organization, the more essential it is to the proper functioning of society or the economy, the more likely it is that the ransomware gang will be able to reap a significant financial return,” Finlay says.
“So the attack on SickKids Hospital is exactly the kind of attack we should expect.”
But organizations may not always be targeted, Falzon says, because many of the tools that result in these cyberattacks take what he calls a scattershot approach — sending an email to thousands of potential victims.
“These are accidental attacks where someone unfortunately clicked on a phishing email or an attachment or something and then it infected that system in that area. And now you have a general problem.
What can people do to protect themselves from cyberattacks?
Keeping computers and mobile devices up to date with the latest software is critical, Falzon says, as manufacturers frequently create “patches and updates” to target vulnerabilities.
“As all of these attacks become more sophisticated, our defense must become more sophisticated,” Falzon says, noting that passwords should also be updated frequently and should never be used for more than one site or service.
He advises people to download ransomware protection software on personal devices and to become hyper-aware when opening emails or text messages from an unknown source.
“It’s a huge risk to carry this around without any protection,” Falzon says.
“Someone could text you, whether it’s WhatsApp, for example, where a simple text (is) sent to your cell phone, you view it, and the next thing you know you’re vulnerable. They can control your camera, your microphone, to see where you are, to read your texts, things like that.
What should businesses and organizations do to avoid falling victim to cyberattacks?
The question isn’t whether an attack will happen, Finlay says, but when — something organizations need to keep in mind.
He suggests they do a “really thorough” risk assessment to uncover any systems or data vulnerable to a cyberattack, then work with experts to figure out how to protect them.
“This often involves investing in people, processes and technology, thus training your employees to be aware of cybersecurity attacks,” says Finlay.
Cybersecurity awareness training is “absolutely” the number one tool businesses, government, and even schools should adopt to protect themselves, Falzon says.
“I strongly believe that we need to start doing it at an even younger age,” he says.
For example, concepts such as ‘cyber hygiene’ could be taught to children – teaching them about passwords and what to avoid clicking online.
“We need to move to prevention rather than trying to detect, because by the time you’ve detected what’s happening, it’s way too late,” Falzon said. “It’s already succeeded.”