Many companies face going out of business if they don’t legislate against cyber-crime – which is costing the Northern Ireland economy £100 million a year.
And it was revealed yesterday how scammers siphoned £80,000 from one firm’s bank account in just two hours.
According to business advisory group Grant Thornton, the figure is largely made up of traditional paper-based crime moving online.
But the overall impact is thought to have doubled in the space of a year as culprits improve their techniques to deal with security updates.
Grant Thornton carried out global research for its International Business Report (IBR) which found cyber-crime cost the world’s economy £173.2 billion a year.
Northern Ireland’s economy loses £98.71m through online crime, the report said while it costs the Republic £451.76m annually.
Mike Harris, cyber security partner at Grant Thornton said no firm was immune to attack.
“At some stage, we are going to see a large organisation go down,” he said.
“We’ve already seen small organisations go under. It’s all types of organisations.
“If you go back five years ago, it was people like banks and financial institutions that were worried about this, the people who had money.
“Any organisation that has financial assets now is potentially at risk and it doesn’t matter whether you sell widgets online, stuff in a shop, or provide government services, all organisations are facing threat.”
Mr Harris said that one Northern Ireland based firm had tens of thousands of pounds taken after a confidence trick that ran for months.
“They were doing online banking and they got a call one day from the individual saying they were ringing from the bank and this was a customer service call and wanted to make sure everything was working,” he said.
“And then over several months, that individual developed a relationship with the member of financial staff so basically rang them once a month to see how they were getting on, told them if they needed any help, they would look after them, gave them a mobile number.
“About six to nine months into it, they had an issue with a payment, rang the mobile phone number, talking to a person they’d been talking to over a number of months so trusted them.
“During the conversation, ‘oh yeah, I can fix that, give me your details there’. Handed over the login details to the online banking and they had something of the order of £60,000 to £80,000 in couple of hours.”
The loss to the Northern Ireland economy includes £37.7m in tax fraud and a further £6.14m in benefit fraud.
Mr Harris added: “Cyber-crime dominates media coverage and Northern Ireland is no different. Data breaches, online fraud, copyright and patent infringements are costing the Northern Ireland economy almost £17 million annually in the clean-up process. That doesn’t include the downtime in business operations and systems.
“With computers being used to perpetrate fraud and cyber-attack they also hold the evidence.
“Financial crime is increasingly perpetrated by cyber-attack and our clients need assistance to establish the facts, investigate the issue and assess the insurance position.”
On a global level, one in six businesses surveyed have suffered a cyber-attack in the last year, with nearly half of all firms putting themselves in the firing line with no comprehensive strategy to prevent digital crime.
The Grant Thornton IBR survey also revealed that, globally, the sector most concerned by the threat of a cyber-attack is financial services, with 74 per cent of businesses saying it is a threat.
Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Grant, of the PSNI Special Investigations and Cyber Crime Centre said the report “highlights the need for businesses at every level to protect themselves from the threats posed by cyber-crime.
“Police are committed to investigating reports of online criminality but in many cases the damage has already been done. We need a collective approach to dealing with this type of criminality and protecting businesses from becoming victims.
“I would encourage businesses, whatever their size, to take pre-emptive action by signing up to Cyber Essentials, a government-backed scheme which provides clarity on good, basic cyber security practice”