Birmingham study concludes utility sector at high risk of cyber attack
A third of UK businesses have suffered a cyber-attack in the past year – with utilities companies at a high degree of risk, according to an industry report compiled by academics in Birmingham.
The study by researchers at the University of Birmingham found one in four of all gas and electricity companies have suffered an increase cyber-attacks in the past 12 months.
International criminal gangs are thought to be behind the attacks, businesses have said.
Besides the energy/utility sector, the Birmingham survey found insurance and marketing companies were also exposed.
A total of 34% of those businesses reported they had been the victim of a cyber-attack.
The report found the hackers are attempting to steal customers’ personal data.
The report, ‘The Cloud Snapshot Survey’ interviewed more than 1,000 bosses and technology experts from companies in the insurance, marketing, technology, energy sectors and scientific research sectors.
The report was undertaken by University of Birmingham Business School academics, in collaboration with Serviceteam, an IT consultancy, based in Edgbaston.
Chief executive of Serviceteam, Sebastian Jesson-Ward, who commissioned the report, said state-sponsored criminals from Russia were likely to be behind the increase in attacks.
Mr Jesson-Ward said: “Within the energy sector the findings were dramatic. We discovered evidence of overseas cyber criminals attempting to gain access into the gas and electricity utilities to steal customer data.
“These companies are investing heavily into protecting their customers’ data. Yet with every improvement the cyber criminals up their game. It’s a constant war and having the best defences is the best way for companies to protect themselves.”
He said there was little doubt that cyber criminals were attempting to gain personal data from customers and also to gain access to a company’s intellectual property.
“We work closely with the utilities industry and they are reporting an almost daily occurrence of attacks,” added Mr Jesson-Ward.
In 2011, a Cabinet Office report found that cyber-attacks were costing the UK economy £27bn a year.