Cyber-attacks affect us all

Redwood comment
Published:  22 June, 2021

Walking back to our hotel after dinner in Shanghai a few years ago (do you vaguely remember those days?), an Alderman from the City of London reminded me that I fitted the profile of individuals likely to be the target of scammers on the internet. While I was aware of this, it was still a shock to hear it so directly stated. 

On the return home, I tried to take some actions but soon recognised how complex it all is. Insurance is impossible to find, the banks offer next to no support, life becomes an endless routine of updates and passwords need changing relentlessly. Remembering passwords as you grow older is not so easy either.

Throughout the pandemic, we turned more to business issues as remote working risked creating more security gaps for the theft of sensitive data, denial of service or the seizing of control for ransom. It has been easy to see this as more a matter for governments and major corporations – power stations, municipal authorities, environmental protection agencies, pipelines, and health services – but increasingly we learn of problems throughout the leather industry.

The attack on JBS, which brought its U.S. slaughterhouses and some overseas plants to a stop, hit the headlines globally and was the clearest evidence that the leather industry is not immune. While many attacks are kept secret, there is no doubt that this is not the first in the industry especially when identity theft and financial scams are added in which have hit companies large and small.

It is reported that JBS paid US$11 million in a ransom “as an insurance” in case their back-up data was incomplete, or the criminals struck again. This is not so large when a ransomware attack targeting the smallish English Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council in February 2020 created a financial loss of over £10 million (US$13.9 million). What is more, over 40% of companies that do pay ransoms report that the recovered data is corrupted.

On a different level, I have a colleague with a small leather business whose website was shut down by an attack on the server company they used. The website provided 80% of turnover and the three months lost to recovery led to the need for painful refinancing. No one is safe.

While JBS is a large, wealthy company, many tanners and leather businesses, like my friend, do not have the balance sheet strength and cash flow to stumble into a cyber event then pick themselves up without immense disruption.

So as companies and individuals, we must all up our game here. Although we sit in our little silos and bicker a lot in the leather industry it remains one of the most pleasant industries to work in, full of great people always willing to help. But the world outside is not so benign and as we have found with PETA and the synthetics industry, it plays by different rules. Truth, honest use of scientific data, morally responsible promotions have not been terms used to describe what we must battle with to maintain market share and consumer esteem for leather. In the world of cybercrime, it is worse.

Even the most vigilant can get caught out
From a band of criminals in a far-off country to a rogue employee in your IT department; from an angry dismissed employee with a USB stick or a slip from a loyal one working remotely, your business can be brought to a halt with crippling recovery costs. You need to act as individuals and companies now, recognising that even the most vigilant are human and can get caught by these relentless attacks.

And yes, titles like Alderman are not only for Gilbert and Sullivan operas; they are real and important. My friend was Master of the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London when she came to the All China Leather Exhibition (ACLE). She has been an Alderman representing part of the City of London for nearly twenty years and before the end of June I am hoping she will be elected one of two Sheriffs for the City. A city that well understands the enormity of cybercrime.

Mike Redwood
June 15 2021

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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