Online criminals attacking Australians on the rise: FireEye report

FireEye's latest threat report showed 35 percent of organisations were exposed to advanced persistent threat during the first half of 2015, an increase from the same period last year.

While China is Australia's number one trading market, it is also one of the country's largest threats, along with Russia, when it comes to online security.

According FireEye Australia and New Zealand regional director Phil Vasic, there are increasingly blurred lines between online criminal activity and government linkages.

"There is no doubt that we are a target. Australian organisations and governments are targets. I think we hear enough about the importance of China to Australia, but the reality is the geopolitical nature in which we are a target for China from a cyber perspective," he said.

The latest research from FireEye identified that 35 percent of Australian organisations were exposed to targeted Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks in the first half of 2015, up from last year's results of 27 percent. The outcome was also higher than the global average of 20 percent.

The 2015 Advanced Threat Report also showed the industries that received the highest number of APT attacks in the country were telecom, government, education, high-tech, and financial services.

Rich Costanzo, FireEye Australia and New Zealand technical and systems engineering director, said criminals were attacking these specific industries mainly for their intellectual property and access to geopolitical information.

Costanzo also highlighted another reason behind online attacks is because criminals simply want to be "disruptors". He drew on the recent Ashley Madison hack as an example, saying that there was no real financial gain aside from exposing the information of users on the site.

The report also indicated ransomware was among the top 10 most common families of malware that infected organisations in Asia Pacific. This is in comparison to the rest of the world where ransomware did not feature in the top 10 list.

Costanzo explained the reason behind this was because victims of ransomware in Asia Pacific were most likely to pay up to the ransom compared to other parts of the world, making the region an attractive target area for criminals.

In addition, Vasic said there is a common misconception among Australian businesses that because the country is so far from the rest of the world, they would be not be targeted by online criminals.

"There's an 'island mentality' where people say if [the attackers] target us, they would only target government and large enterprises," he said.

"Fundamentally, this creates a small to medium business environment in Australia that is more susceptible [to being attacked], compared to our large enterprises and government who are more mature and are heavily invested in protecting their resources."