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Cyber crime spreads in Australia as COVID-19 pushes more people online

·2-min read
Hooded man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia reported on Wednesday a 13% jump in cyber crime in the past year, with about one incident in four targeting critical infrastructure and services as working from home during the pandemic made more people vulnerable to online attacks.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) received one cybercrime report every eight minutes over the 12 months to June 30, 2021, it said in its annual report.

Hackers have switched their focus to people working remotely online, and used fear created by COVID-19 to actively target 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 victims a passcode - or a "key" - to retrieve it 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 has denied.

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

IDCare, which works with regulators to support identity theft victims, said the ACSC figures were the "tip of the iceberg" because many victims did not report to authorities. It said it had experienced a 47% jump in complaints so far in 2021, compared to 2020 which was itself a record year.

"The general indicators are that it's not slowing and is likely to increase," IDCare managing director David Lacey said.

"It's a perfect storm for scammers it's conditions that they love and thrive in."

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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