The growing costs of cybercrime

Issue 5 2022 Information Security, Security Services & Risk Management

Simeon Tassev.

Modern enterprises face an onslaught of cyberattacks from many quarters and must not only be prepared to contend with the direct costs of potential breaches, but also with spiralling indirect costs, such as compliance fines and reputational damage. As the threat landscape continues to evolve, so do the frequency and sophistication of attacks, with companies facing anything from denial-of-service attacks and phishing attempts to payment card skimming, identity theft and account takeover threats.

At the same time, ransomware attacks have gained prominence over the last few years, forcing companies to continually test their data protection plans to understand the risks associated with having sensitive data released to the public.

In its State of Ransomware 2021 report, released earlier this year, Sophos revealed that 24% of South African companies had experienced a ransomware attack in the past 12 months. It also found that the average cost to recover data stolen in industrial ransomware attacks in South Africa was $447 097 (R6,8 million). Perhaps equally startling are the figures released by the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), which show that South Africa loses $157 million (R2,4 billion) a year to cyberattacks.

Cost of non-compliance

Aside from these costs, companies must also be cognisant of the costs associated with compliance fines, should they be found to not be compliant with legislation such as the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) ACT when a cyber breach event occurs.

On a positive note, significant progress and investment have been made by government to secure the country’s growing digital economy and to fight the ever-evolving cyber threats that come with it.

As such, we have seen a fair amount of cyber legislation that has recently been put in place in South Africa. We now have our own cyber law, which is extremely important, as in the past we could not prosecute many of the cybercrimes that were committed against South African entities. This was because no physical crime was perpetrated, and our previous legislation was based on geographical borders – so crimes had to be carried out within the borders of the country. Now, the cyber world is global and reaches beyond borders.

In South Africa, data breaches are a daily occurrence and not something that happens once or twice a year. In past years, we have seen high-profile breaches as such at Experian, Postbank, TransUnion and Sixt Car Rental, to name but a few.

Not a once-off cost

Yet, not many companies understand that the cost of these breaches is not a once-off and some of these incidents, especially in the case of a listed company, can have an impact for many years to come. In addition to the direct costs, companies must consider the loss of customer trust and goodwill, which could lead to a loss of future sales and cost the company exponentially more than the breach itself in the years to come.

No company wants to find itself in this position, which is why there is a lot of technology available that can be harnessed to prevent cyber breaches. Typically, there are also various levels of governance and standards frameworks, as well as compliance and maturity models, that companies can adopt to protect themselves from cyber criminals.

However, the most important questions is: where should companies start? The first step is for companies to understand their own environment and what is relevant to them. Essentially, it is all about acceptable risks. From a pure risk methodology perspective, there are always three ways to deal with risk. One is to accept the risk; another is to mitigate it and the last is to transfer it.

These types of assessments can show companies what their levels of readiness are and provides a baseline that can be monitored and measured against. Not only will this give organisations a view of what policies and systems they have in place, it will also enable them to see what measures still need to be put in place.

What’s most important is to then find a way to prioritise all of this, in terms of what is relevant to the specific organisation and what is acceptable in terms of risk. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all, but the right partner can guide them and provide the necessary skills and expertise to protect their business.

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