Published: 11:49, 21 April 2021
| Updated: 09:16, 22 April 2021
Small businesses are most at risk of online attacks originating from Russia and China, according to a Kent cyber security expert.
Jason Lydford, managing director of Computer Rescue on Kent Science Park, Sittingbourne, said many business owners reaching out for support have been targeted by automated attack programs from the other side of the globe.
He said: "The majority are from the old Eastern Bloc - Russia, Ukraine - or from China. You still get some from America and some from Europe, but nowhere near as many."
The security company uses software which can trace attacks back to their source, and most end up linked to the two countries most widely known for continued attempts to hack businesses and government institutions across the world.
Last month KentOnline revealed there were more than 76 million unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate the cyber defences of Kent County Council during the coronavirus crisis.
Of those attacks, 38 million were traced back to Russia and another 30 million to China.
But while the council's IT security has been robust enough to block those attacks, Mr Lydford said small businesses without protections in place are far more at risk.
He said: "The problem is people still don't see it as a massive threat - it's a bit like house burglaries, 'it's not going to happen to me.'
"If they're not taking it seriously they don't have the protections in place.
"Unfortunately a lot of small businesses think that cyber crime is only going to happen to bigger companies, and the low-hanging fruit as they are, are not going to be affected at all."
A common misconception is that behind every cyber attack lies a cunning criminal sat at a keyboard, but the reality is many of these crimes are automated, using software which scoures the internet looking for victims with little to no protection.
These programs filter through IP addresses - labels assigned to each device connected to a computer network - and systematically attack until they find a weakness.
Though this may sound like an impossible force to protect yourself from, Mr Lydford highlighted one simple change which would help protect businesses and individuals.
He said: "The biggest problem is passwords. What most people do is they have the same password for all their accounts.
"Once a cyber criminal has your password they're going to try it everywhere.
"We get people saying to us 'we can't think of new passwords' but if you download a free password manager, they'll handle your passwords.
"You have one master password to get into the master application and then all the other passwords are different.
"Once a cyber criminal has your password they're going to try it everywhere..."
"So if someone does get your PayPal account for example, you'd only have one password to change."
It comes as data reveals Kent has the third highest rate of cyber attacks in the country, with 58.8 crimes committed per 100,000 people.
Eset's UK cyber crime report cites hacking social media and email accounts as the most common of all types of cyber crime, with 15,367 reports (46.7%) in 2020.
Mr Lydford said the figure was not a surprise to him: "As an IT and security company we've been looking after security and cyber crime for over 15 years, and we've seen the number rise and rise month on month on month for the last several years."
Commenting on the study, Jake Moore, cyber security specialist at ESET, said: "What is initially apparent is that there has been a nationwide increase and cyber criminals will pursue the data rather than target people specifically.
"However, knowledge is the key to reducing cyber crime and where this data has highlighted inevitable increases, it may suggest those areas are lacking in cyber security awareness and a focus on education is now necessary."
Mr Lydford agrees that education is the best tool to keep everybody safe from these kinds of malicious online attacks: "These hackers are not silly, they are looking at the easiest way to extort money or data from anybody.
"If they can do it by text, by email, by a pop up on your machine or sending you a link to click - what they're relying in is they're going to catch you unaware, or you're simply going to follow the instructions they send.
"What we're tying to educate people to do is to say 'don't click the link unless you're absolutely certain you know where the link is from.'"
Last year fraudsters threatening people with arrest over tax debts conned victims out of thousands of pounds in less than two weeks, masquerading as Her Majesty’s Revenue Customs.