A NORTH-EAST firm has identified its top three significant cyber breaches of 2020 – highlighting the need for businesses to remain alert as the number of attacks continues to rise.

Garry Brown, managing director of Darlington-based Bondgate IT, says that cyber criminals are constantly evolving and creating new and more sophisticated methods of accessing sensitive data.

His top three significant cyber breaches are:

l May: US company Blackbaud, the world’s largest provider of education administration, fundraising, and financial management software, suffered a ransomware attack resulting in a copy of a subset of data being stolen. Many UK charities and universities, together with hundreds of other organisations worldwide, use the software.

l June: Twitter reported that it was the victim of a major cyberattack that resulted in accounts, including those of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and Bill Gates, tweeting out a Bitcoin scam to millions.

l December: The European Medicines Agency (EMA) revealed hackers accessed documents relating to a COVID-19 vaccine – the latest in a string of attacks on vaccine makers, the international supply chain and health bodies. It follows warnings from several governments - including the UK's - of countries targeting aspects of vaccine research.

Mr Brown said: “Cybercrime is forecast to cost $6 trillion globally by 2021, including stolen money, the cost of retrieving vital data, lost productivity and reputational harm.

“The past eight months has opened increasing areas of vulnerability, especially as the pandemic has resulted in many more people working from home.

“Each of the three cybercrimes I’ve highlighted are international in nature but show that they can have far reaching effects for businesses, organisations, and individuals in this country.

“Many of the biggest cybercrimes of 2020 started with hackers targeting employees through phishing emails and, through this, gaining access to sensitive internal systems and tools.

“It’s vital that staff are aware of the dangers and are able to recognise any likely phishing or ransomware attack.

“The first two cybercrimes are criminal in nature, involving ransom and fraud, but the third - targeting vaccine makers and their supply chain - displays a level of sophistication that points to a nation state.

“All three highlight the ability of hackers to access sensitive data and areas that their victims might have considered secure.

“It also underlines that investing in multi-level approach to IT security is not just advisable but absolutely vital in protecting a company from financial and reputational loss.”