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New Zealanders report increasing cybersecurity issues

The number of cybersecurity attacks being reported in New Zealand is on the rise, with nearly NZ$17 million lost over the past year as a result. The data comes from CERT NZ’s annual summary for 2020, which has been released recently. It showed the agency received nearly 8,000 reports of cybersecurity incidents last year, a 65% increase from the year before.

CERT NZ- the Computer Emergency Response Team – is part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and its key referral partners include the Department of Internal Affairs, Netsafe, National Cyber Security Centre, and police.

According to the agency, they are developing a much richer understanding of the types of threats and issues that are affecting New Zealanders, and New Zealand businesses. Phishing and credential harvesting (where an attacker collects personal data) were the most reported form of attacks and were up 76% in 2019. Behind those were scams and fraud reports, which are up by 11%.

In total, NZ$16.9m was lost to attackers – the most in a single year since CERT was launched. The country’s one-stop-shop for cybersecurity said they were not surprised that more attacks and more financial loss were being reported, as New Zealand’s an exceptionally attractive country, with a very trusting set of communities.

The increases are not necessarily down to more attacks happening, however, but probably down to more people recognising CERT and reporting a crime when it happens.

The agency is now in its fourth year and stated that they still did not think they had ascertained the true scale of how many cyber-attacks were happening, and how much money was being lost each year. And while financial loss is the easiest impact of cyber-attacks to quantify, there are others: reputational damage can be done, personal data can be lost, and operations can go down causing a significant financial blow.

The agency’s advice to everybody is to take these simple steps: ensuring that users have a strong, long, and unique password; ensuring users’ systems are updated automatically; and today, with the increased usage of social media, users must be extra careful about their privacy settings. Between 65% to 70% of all cyber-attacks can be prevented by following these security measures, according to the agency.

Accordingly, as reported by OpenGov Asia, New Zealand’s Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Hon Kris Faafoi announced that funding from the country’s Budget together with a revised Cyber Security Strategy will intensify the government’s focus on cybersecurity.

The Minister shared that the government had allocated NZ$ 8 million over the next four years to help implement the cybersecurity strategy. This is on top of the NZ$ 9.3 million increased funding for CERT NZ. As part of the Wellbeing Budget, the government has funded several new or expanded initiatives to keep new Zealanders cyber secure and build a secure digital nation.

The Cyber Security Strategy highlights four fundamentals for cybersecurity in New Zealand. These are:

  1. Partnerships are crucial
  2. People are secure and human rights are respected online
  3. Economic growth is enhanced
  4. National security is protected.

Of all values mentioned, the Minister finds “partnerships are crucial” to be the most important because neither the government nor the private sector can do it alone. Everyone should work together to keep individuals, businesses, community organisations and the private sector thriving online.

Also, it is important to stress that a focus on cybersecurity is critical across New Zealand’s society and economy. Therefore, the strategy sets out the government’s priorities on cybercrime and how the country will continue to champion a free, open, and secure internet internationally.

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