ABOUT 9300 Northern Rivers businesses risk being held to ransom by greedy hackers because of lax computer system security, experts say.
A new report by BDO Australia and AusCERT shows 48% of small and medium enterprises do not conduct regular cyber risk assessments, leaving them open to technology-based crimes.
Based on the 2016 Cyber Security Survey findings, this means at least 9300 of the 19,564 Northern Rivers businesses could be in the firing line.
The biggest risk to our businesses is ransomware, with new research by virus software company Kaspersky Lab showing the attacks rose from one every two minutes to one every 40 seconds in Australia over the past 11 months.
Ransomware - or cryptolock - hacks usually happen when an unsuspecting email recipient opens a message purporting to be from reputable and trusted big name organisations like Australia Post.
Unwitting recipients will click on a link that results in malicious software being installed on, and crippling, their employer's computer system.
Unprepared businesses can be forced to pay a ransom to have their data released.
The ransom will increase depending on the type and amount of data on the business's server and it is always paid in untraceable bitcoins.
One bitcoin is worth about $1000.
BDO cyber security national leader Leon Fouche said small business operators such as clothing retailers, health services and private education providers were more likely to pay the ransoms because they could be significantly cheaper than upgrading their security systems.
Mr Fouche said there was no guarantee the cryptolocker would not block the business's system again and there was also an increased risk of sensitive client information being stolen.
"Ransomware is such an easy way to actually get into organisations' environments because it exploits vulnerabilities and it can be done on a wide scale," Mr Fouche said.
"The hackers don't charge a lot of money for the ransom so it's probably easier for people to pay."
Lismore technology expert Ken Thompson said businesses needed daily data backups, strong firewalls and clear instructions for all staff to avoid clicking on unexpected email attachments or links.
"Suspect everything that's on the internet," the Compu-k Computers manager said.
"The ransomware comes through on a legitimate-looking email so you just have to suspect everything.
"If you're not expecting parcel don't open an 'Australia Post' email about a parcel and if you're expecting a parcel, you still have to think that the email might be a hoax."
Phishing - where hackers access systems to obtain usernames, passwords, credit card details and other information - is a common attack; as is the release of system-crippling malware or Trojan infections.
- ARM NEWSDESK
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.