Tackling Cyber Crime – The Fastest Growing Type of Fraud against Governments and Businesses

Did you know that cyber crime is one of the fastest growing types of crime? Banks and government websites around the world have been critically hit by cyber attacks and the impact on businesses have been devastating. In this article, the author highlights the motivations behind the attacks and what your organisation can do to prevent them. 

By Colin Cram, Chief Executive, Open Forum Enterprise Pte Ltd
Published 21 June 2016


Cyber crime is one of the fastest growing types of crime according to the United Nations. All types of organisation, business and industry are under attack and the effect can be devastating. Businesses are increasingly vulnerable due to over-confidence, complacency, lack of understanding of the threat and assuming that their software and software providers are fully up to date with the latest risks and will protect them. How wrong can they be? The statistics are staggering. Forbes, on 17 January, estimated that cyber crime will amount to $400billion a year globally and by 2019 will total $2trillion. There are up to 80million automated hacking attacks every day. (United Nations)   In 2015, a single criminal gang called Carbanak stole $1billion from 100 banks according to Viral News. On 13 May 2016, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a successful attack on “the most secure financial messaging system in the world”, i.e.  SWIFT, which moves billions of dollars around the world every day. The Singapore government announced it expects financial institutions to implement strong controls in their IT systems. In 2015, Anthem Inc., the second largest U.S. health insurer, reported a very sophisticated external cyber attack which stole ‘10s of millions of records’ of personal information from current and former members such as their names, birthdays, medical IDs/social security numbers, street addresses, email addresses and employment information, including income data."  


It is not just banks and finance companies that are hit. Critical government websites in European nations, such as Latvia and Estonia have been hit by disabling attacks believed to have been instigated by the Russian government. At least one power station has been shut down. According to the Straits Times on 7 June, 9 out of Singapore’s 18 polyclinics were hit by IT system disruptions. The cause is being investigated. On 10 June the Straits Times quoted Mr David Koh, chief executive of Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency, that over the past year there were 16 attacks against government networks that made it past firewall systems provided by vendors. This will partly explain the Singapore government’s decision to stop government employees from using the internet. However, for such drastic steps to have been taken, one wonders if there has been a very serious breach of security. Is its timing coincidental or might it be linked to increasing tension in the South China Sea?


Cyber security is the top priority of the UAE government. In a survey reported in the Khaleej Times, 32% of respondents believed their organisations had been hit by external cyber attacks whilst 23% believed their organisations had been hit by internal cyber attacks.


The impact on businesses can be devastating. In the UK, Talktalk, an internet provider was hacked into and personal details of several hundred thousand customers were sold – some to criminal organisations. Almost overnight 100,000 Talktalk customers moved to other providers.


What are the motivations for cyber attacks?

  1. Intimidatory. The attacks on Estonia and Latvia may have been motivated by the Russian government’s displeasure at their joining NATO. However, intimidation is likely to be far more frequent in the business world.
  2. Disabling. Most businesses depend on IT and disabling a rival’s IT is a good way to gain competitive advantage. This can disable manufacturing processes and production, processing pay, supply chain management or paying invoices or staff salaries. Disabling a nation’s IT signifies aggression.
  3. Financial gain, either directly from the business targeted or through obtaining personal details of its customers.
  4. Ruining the reputation of a business, possibly that of a rival, through, for example, theft of personal details of customers.
  5. Industrial espionage through obtaining information about a rival’s products, ingredients and processes.
  6. Altering processes, ingredients and products used by a rival, so causing faulty products or prepared food.
  7. Aggression. This includes shutting down transport, e.g. rail, airport and road technology, and utilities such as power stations. A nation’s defences can be compromised  - perhaps rendered useless - and defence secrets stolen.
  8. Terror and social unrest.

Motivations include terrorism, criminality, greed, ‘fun’, the challenge of seeing if one can successfully attack, securing competitive advantage, ruining the business and reputation of a rival, political aggression and revenge. About two thirds, of cyber attackers are employees, so revenge or resentment may be the most common reason for a cyber attack. The rest, external attackers, will target and test businesses and governments web-sites to find weak spots, which are often simply an employee opening an email or a web-site.


Singapore is one of the most targeted nations in Asia, which could threaten its aim to be a Smart nation. Some businesses will have suffered huge losses, but have been silent about it to avoid reputational damage. Any type of business is vulnerable, including retail and leisure. The nature of attacks is always changing and the expertise of attackers grows. Controls and prevention techniques become quickly out of date.


Businesses must therefore:

  1. Give a member of staff responsibility for ensuring that systems and processes are adequate.
  2. Because the nature of attack and the expertise of attackers is changing rapidly, ensure that the accountable person or persons attend training courses at least annually.
  3. Ensure that people receive profiling training to identify people, in particular employees, who may be a risk to the organisation.