Sunday 25 September 2016

Is Ireland wide open to a serious cyber attack?

Published 16/05/2015 | 02:30

December's high profile attack on Sony has put online threats on the agenda of national authorities that might have previously seen it as a distant concern
December's high profile attack on Sony has put online threats on the agenda of national authorities that might have previously seen it as a distant concern

How vulnerable is Ireland to a serious cyber attack? What is the likelihood of one occurring here?

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In 2011, some people sniggered when two Dublin students hacked the Fine Gael website. But is a more serious attack on Ireland likely? And even if critical public services are not under significant threat, how much should Ireland be doing to help prevent attacks on high profile targets located here, such as banks or multinational tech firms?

Governments and big corporations have been on heightened alert against cyber attacks in the last six months. December's high profile attack on Sony - a breach that exposed thousands of sensitive documents and which was blamed on North Korean hackers - has put online threats on the agenda of national authorities that might have previously seen it as a distant concern.

In Ireland, instances of major targeted cyber attacks are rare. High profile incidents on organisations such as Clare-based Loyaltybuild are few and far between. Where Irish organisations are hit, it is often as part of a wider trawl, such as a recent €900m Europe-wide 'spear-phishing' exercise aimed at banks and identified by IT security firm Kaspersky.

Other nefarious attacks affect facilities in Ireland because of the companies located here, such as recent malware activities that focused on planting bugs in the world's biggest data-gathering centres.

But that is not to say that there isn't a general problem in everyday businesses.

Last year, one in five Irish companies was the victim of some kind of malicious external hacking attack, according to a major recent survey from the Irish Computer Society. And many large Irish organisations just don't have a clue what to look out for. A recent Ernst & Young global security survey claimed that 47pc of Irish organisations are "unlikely to be able to detect a sophisticated cyber attack".

But even if the organisations in Ireland arm themselves a little better, it still leaves those tasked with fighting the hackers with serious problems. One of the biggest, say experts, is the growing number of hacking groups with deadly capability.

While loose groupings such as 'Anonymous' or 'Lizard Squad' have been fingered for high profile attacks on Sony, Microsoft and Visa in the last year, small outfits that can serious damage have multiplied.

The Irish Defence Forces may be right to cast themselves in the role of our new cyber-protectors.

But they may be jumping in at the deep end of a swamp where even the FBI struggles to identify the bad guys.

Irish Independent

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