Australia sees 13% rise in cyber crime reports as COVID-19 pushes more people online

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia saw a 13% jump in cyber crime reports in the past year, the government said on Wednesday, with about one incident in four targeting critical infrastructure and essential services as many work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) received one cybercrime report every eight minutes over the 12 months to June 30, 2021, with a record number of Australians working remotely online during the pandemic, it said in its annual report published on Wednesday.

Hackers have pivoted to exploit COVID-19 and are actively targeting vulnerable people and health services to conduct espionage, and steal money and sensitive data, Assistant Minister of Defence Andrew Hastie said in a statement.

Ransomware incidents increased nearly 15%, with the health sector reporting the second-highest number of attacks. Ransom software works by encrypting victims’ data and typically hackers will offer a key in return for cryptocurrency payments that can run into millions of dollars.

“Malicious cyber criminals are escalating their attacks on Australians,” Hastie said.

In June last year, Australia said it was being targeted by a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor” with the attacks targeting all levels of the government, political parties and essential service providers. Sources told Reuters that Australia viewed China as the chief suspect, which Beijing had denied.

The United States and its allies, including Australia, in July this year had accused China of a global cyberespionage campaign, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken said posed “a major threat to our economic and national security”.