Cyber crims spark 'ethical hackers' demand

Tim DorninAAP
Ethical hackers are employed to uncover potential security issues malicious hackers could exploit.
Camera IconEthical hackers are employed to uncover potential security issues malicious hackers could exploit. Credit: AAP

The continued growth in cyber attacks and their potential to wreak havoc on companies, governments and the wider community has created a demand for "ethical hackers" to help bolster computer security.

An estimated 7000 Australian cybersecurity jobs will be created by 2024 with businesses urged to upskill existing employees and invest in specialist hackers who can identify weaknesses in computer systems.

Ethical hacking expert at Koenig Solutions Nityanand Thakur says companies who haven't thought about using this method for protecting data should.

"Hacking has earned itself negative connotations within the media, understandably so," he said.

"This can make it hard for businesses to get their head around the idea of it being done ethically but it affects everyone from individuals to businesses to government organisations.

"With cybersecurity, it's better to learn from other businesses' mistakes of not being prepared."

Ethical or white-hat hackers penetrate systems, networks, applications or other computing resources on behalf of their owners.

Organisations call on them to uncover potential security issues that malicious hackers could exploit.

Former IBM executive John Patrick is thought to have coined the term in the 1990s, though the concept was likely around much earlier.

Its growing importance would be hard to overestimate considering 59,000 cybercrimes were reported in Australia in 2019/20, earning the country the title of the sixth most hacked in the world based on data analysed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Major companies have fallen victim in recent months, with an attack disrupting some of Channel Nine's broadcasts in March.

Another in April targeted two Brisbane hospitals and a number of aged care centres while in June meat processing company JBS Foods confirmed it paid $14.2 million to end a five-day attack that halted its global operations, including those in Australia.

According to the 2021 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report, the average cost of a breach to Australian companies is $3.7 million with companies taking on average 10 months to detect and contain incursions.

UNIFY Solutions cybersecurity expert Peter Tiernan says cyber criminals stalk organisations looking for weaknesses.

"They will try to find easy entries by stealing an employee's identity, testing for less sophisticated systems, look for businesses without an IT team or one potentially distracted with trying to help keep their remote workforce online," he said.

"They will spend days testing cyber walls looking for a way in.

"The worst of it is, most times an employee will unwittingly hand the robber the key to the safe."

In response to cyber threats, Australian companies spent $5.6 billion on cybersecurity in 2020 according to AustCyber's Digital Census, with that figure expected to grow to $7.6 billion by 2024.

Mr Thakur said with so many companies and organisations at risk, the mentality that "it won't happen to me" was a dangerous one.

"It's daunting just how many Australian businesses have fallen victim to cyber attacks in the last year," he said.

"Usually, it's something as little as having an information security analyst to educate wider staff about what spam and viruses may look like or how to use one to five-factor authentication."

Mr Thakur says as the demand for ethical hackers increases it is vital Australia trains enough people to step into the cybersecurity sector.

Without enough suitable applicants, those jobs risk being "offloaded" overseas.

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