Cyber-terror: 90% of top UK firms hit by hack attacks, costing economy billions

(Reuters/ Bogdan Cristel / Files)
Nine in 10 large UK firms have fallen prey to cyber-attacks, costing the British economy billions of pounds, new figures suggest. These “chronic” cyber threats stem from hostile nations, terror outfits and hacktivists, a leading cyber-security chief says.

Incidences of hackers attempting to steal confidential data across the UK are rising steadily, government-commissioned research released Tuesday suggests.

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The study, titled “Information Security Breaches,” was conducted by auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

It estimates the average cost of the most serious security breaches to large firms has increased dramatically in the past year, and could now be as high as £3.1 million per firm on average.

Smaller businesses could pay up to £311,000 annually to stave off serious cyber threats, it adds.

Such costs would be required to cover disruption to business, eroded sales, fines, compensation and asset recovery, PwC said.

Ed Vaizey, Britain's Digital Economy Minister, said the UK is an “attractive target” for cyber-attacks and the related financial costs are soaring.

“The UK’s digital economy is strong and growing, which is why British businesses remain an attractive target for cyber-attack,” he said.

“Businesses that take this threat seriously are not only protecting themselves and their customers’ data but securing a competitive advantage.”

PwC’s report suggests while security on regular computer systems is being dealt with, firms’ increasing reliance on tablets and smartphones could leave them vulnerable to attack.

The number of companies that reported security breaches via such devices increased more than twofold in 2015, it said.

The research also indicates human error is another factor, which increases firms’ vulnerability to attack.

PwC cyber security director Andrew Miller said security breaches are becoming increasingly costly.

“Breaches are becoming increasingly sophisticated, often involving internal staff to amplify their effect, and the impacts we are seeing are increasingly long-lasting and costly to deal with,” he said.

PwC’s research was unveiled at Britain’s Infosecurity conference on Tuesday.

Speaking at the event, GCHQ’s director general of cyber security, Ciaran Martin, said it is impossible to construct a “cyber security umbrella” over the nation.

He said the cyber threats UK firms and organizations face “show little sign of abating,” and generally stem from hostile states, terror groups and hacktivists.

Martin said he was “genuinely surprised” by the broad range of organizations targeted by cyber criminals.