Leading article

People need protection from the cyber criminals

The cyber attack which crippled parts of the NHS and brought disruption to companies across the globe underlines the massive challenge of keeping systems secure in the face of rampant criminality.

The problem of the cyber criminal is well recognised, with gangs and individuals able to exploit any weaknesses in information technology to cause havoc and extort money.

Although there have been many cyber attacks, it is the scale and nature of this onslaught that has created a nightmare scenario for both business and government.

Friday's attempt to hold the NHS to ransom, leaving large swathes of the organisation in a state of paralysis with operations cancelled and patients being turned away from hospitals, has caused widespread alarm.

The ransomware virus which caused the crisis struck in the UK and Spain before spreading to 200,000 institutions and organisations around the world.

Almost 50 health trusts were affected in England and Scotland but there were no reports of affected computers in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday the Republic's Health Service Executive confirmed three hospitals had been targeted with up to 20 computers affected but the problem was quickly isolated.

There is no doubt that many organisations are now wise after the event and hopefully precautions taken over the weekend prevented the virus spreading.

But there are clear lessons for companies and public sector bodies which need to ensure they have the most up to date security in place, with information and files properly backed up.

The fact that hospitals in England had been sent a protective patch but not all downloaded it is clearly a matter of serious concern which needs to be reviewed.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where many of us are susceptible to IT systems and emails being hacked by the criminally unscrupulous.

These are people who prey on the unsuspecting and con them into divulging information which leads to their bank accounts being raided and savings stolen, a despicable and widespread crime that devastates lives.

Research released earlier this month revealed that Northern Ireland is a hotspot for online financial scams and it is important the message gets out about all types of cyber fraud.

Obviously, people must be on the alert for any illegal activity but the difficulty is that the criminals are highly plausible and often use sophisticated methods.

They may also feel beyond the reach of law enforcement which is an issue that needs to be addressed.

It is essential that people take precautions to prevent cyber crime and make it as difficult as possible for the thieves to succeed but the criminals also need to know they run a serious risk of being brought to justice.

The criminals are seeking to exploit any weakness and the nature of crime is changing.

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