A cyber attack sounds like something out of a Hollywood heist film. But it’s not always Hugh Jackman hacking into the mainframe and it’s usually not for some complicated revenge plot. In fact, it’s more likely to be the inverse of that. It usually looks something like someone sending out hundreds and thousands of malware phishing links. They’re counting on the fact that eventually someone will click on one of these links and fall victim to attack. Therefore, regardless of your position, industry and scale of your business, there’s always a risk of a cyber attack targeting you.

Is your business protected from an attack? Find out now with our free cyber security assessment.

In fact, depending upon the industry you’re in, you may be at higher risk than others. Hackers target organisations in the healthcare industry significantly more than other industries. This is reflected both in the 2019 NDBS report and consistent with worldwide statistics. So, it’s also important to consider if you’re in a more vulnerable position based on your industry.

However, at the end of the day, if you’re a victim of an attack there’s only one thing to do. And, unfortunately, that’s not to pretend it hasn’t happened. You’ve got to respond and move forward. So, you’ve been had. Possibly even bamboozled. Maybe you were prepared. Maybe not. Either way, now you find yourself needing to take action and respond to it. In fact, it’s quite possible that you weren’t even aware of the cyber attack immediately. Or for some time after.

Data Breach 2022

This highlights the importance of understanding what constitutes a cyber attack, so you know how to identify them, and of course, respond to them.

What is a Cyber Attack?

In short, a cyber attack is the deliberate exploitation of a computer system or network. For example, a hacker may use malicious code to exploit a vulnerability in the system. This code executes a command that leads to a disruption in the natural sequence of events. As a result, the target ends up with compromised or stolen data. This is often used for various cyber crimes.

To sum up, a cyber attack could leave you with a number of results that affect you negatively. That is to say, you could be subject to anything from identity theft or fraud, to ransomware, stolen data, malware attacks, IP theft, website defacement and more.

For more information on security you can check out our Cyber Security Guide.

Who Is At Risk Of A Cyber Attack And Why?

At first glance, it may seem counter-intuitive. But more than anyone else, small businesses need to be wary of cyber attacks. Small businesses present a tantalising target for attackers for a few reasons.

Small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) are less likely to have stringent security measures and appropriate incident response plans in place. Therefore, attackers find SMBs far easier to infiltrate and exploit. Additionally, they often don’t have the means to defend or recover from an attack easily, so they’ll cough up the dough after a ransomware attack just to get their data back.

The cost of a data breach is significantly more than most realise, and the financial hit is a huge one that many small businesses may not recover from. So, as they say, prevention is better than cure

Above all, attackers are looking for two factors in a victim. Firstly, ease of access. Secondly, the potential reward. Small businesses often check that first box with minimal cyber security measures. Furthermore, depending on the type of business, the data onboard may be ultra juicy and worth quite a bit financially. So, they may sell the information to other malicious parties, or hold the data hostage for a significant ransom. Don’t make it easy for them!

A bar graph showing the average losses due to cybercrime in Australia.

How to Identify an Attack

1. My Email Account Was Hacked

What Signs Do I Look For?

Here are some signs that your email account has been hacked. Look for the following:

  • Your password has changed
  • There’s unusual inbox activity (check sent mail, read messages, no incoming emails)
  • You’ve received password reset emails from other sites
  • Account access from unexpected IP address/s (your email provider usually records this information) has occurred
  • Your email contacts (whether within or outside of your business) let you know that they have received strange emails from you

How Did This Happen?

Email hacks usually occur by one of the following methods of attack:

  • A password hack or brute force cyber attack
  • Social engineering
  • Phishing email

What Do I Do Now?

2. System Account Details Are Compromised

What Signs Do I Look For?

  • Your computer speed has slowed down significantly
  • Your security software has been disabled or compromised
  • Software or browser add-ons appear that you don’t recognise
  • Additional pop-ups are happening
  • Random shutdowns and restarts are happening
  • You’ve lost access to your account

How Did This Happen?

  • Your email was hacked/compromised and used to access another account
  • Phishing
  • Password hack
  • Man In The Middle attack
  • Watering Hole Cyber Attack
  • Unpatched Software

What Do I Do Now?

3. My Online Storage Account Was Hacked

What Signs Do I Look For?

Some examples of online storage accounts include DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and iCloud.

  • Your site suddenly has content that shouldn’t be there
  • You cannot access your account
  • Files are missing/altered
  • There’s unusual outbound network traffic
  • You’re being notified of unexpected access locations and logins
  • A large number of requests for the same object/file have been received
  • Suspicious admin activity (see the previous attack)
  • Excessive read operations (someone is trying to gather data)
  • Contacts are receiving emails with files/links to open (make sure they don’t open them!)

How Did This Happen?

  • System account was compromised
  • Phishing
  • Social engineering cyber attack

What do I do now? 

4. I Received a Blackmail Email Demand

types of cyber security attacks

What Signs Do I Look For?

  • An email stating that they have incriminating evidence on you (this may or may not be a bluff)
  • An email may claim they have accessed your password through a keylogger
  • They threaten to expose you to your contacts
  • They make a demand for payment (most likely in Bitcoin)

How Did This Happen?

  • Phishing attack
  • Ransomware download
  • Your account was involved in another data breach

What Do I Do Now?

5. My Social Media Has Been Hacked

What Signs Do I Look For?

  • Changes to your follower count
  • Friend or contact requests you didn’t make
  • Duplicate accounts requesting your friends/contacts
  • Posts that you did not make
  • Old posts suddenly deleted
  • Password has been changed
  • Notification that your account was accessed from a new location/device

How Did This Happen?

  • Phishing email appearing to be from Facebook/other social media website
  • Sneaky social media apps
  • Malicious link within Facebook/Twitter

What Do I Do Now?

6. Our Network Has Been Attacked

What Signs Do I Look For?

  • Your files and/or server has been encrypted
  • Network becomes very sluggish/slow
  • Your data usage is unusually high
  • Programs are continually crashing
  • You received a ransomware message
  • Computers are functioning without local input

How Did This Happen?

  • Ransomware
  • Malware attack via phishing
  • Rogue software
  • Physical access
  • Social engineering

What Do I Do Now?

7. There’s Been a Fraudulent Financial Transaction

What Signs Do I Look For?

  • Money has been transferred to the wrong account
  • Account deductions that you didn’t authorise
  • Suspiciously large orders that don’t match usual order activity
  • Unexpected invoices that have not been verified
  • Large payments not arriving despite remuneration advice
  • Advice to change address or bank details without the appropriate cross-checks

How Did This Happen?

  • High ranking accounts compromised ― submitting payment requests to the accounts department. An example of this is hackers posing as the director, requesting accounts to submit a payment to X account
  • Man in the Middle (posed as a financial institution)
  • Invoice details were changed through a compromised system account (eg Xero, MYOB account, or accounting system login)
  • Payroll/AR/AP has been hacked via phishing, social engineering, or malware

What Do I Do Now?

8. We Got Infected With A Malware Cyber Attack

What Signs Do I Look For?

  • Excessively slow computer processing
  • Programs opening and closing automatically
  • Lack of storage space
  • New programs/add-ons that you did not install
  • Security software disabled
  • Excessive popups
  • Browser keeps redirecting sites

How Did This Happen?

  • Phishing
  • Rogue software
  • Opening or executing a malicious file (either by email or removable media)
  • Insufficient firewall protection
  • You allowed a program to install bundled add-ons
  • Unpatched software/operating system

What Do I Do Now?

9. I Received a Suspicious Phone Call

What Signs Do I Look For?

  • You’re being offered money or a free product that you didn’t enter to win (reminder: if it seems too good to be true, it usually is) 
  • Any call that claims to have detected viruses or infections on your computer
  • Calls that claim you owe taxes or other government payments
  • If the caller deflects or refuses to answer your questions
  • The caller is pushing you to make an immediate financial decision
  • The caller is threatening deportation or arrest

How Did This Happen?

  • You submitted information somewhere that sold your information to a third-party
  • For example, you entered a raffle or sweepstakes, or signed a petition
  • You recently signed up for a service or website
  • Social media ― your profile may be too public, and scammers used public information against you

What Do I Do Now?

Cyber Attack Recovery Steps

1. If you still have access to the account, immediately change your password to something more secure

A tip for creating a secure (yet memorable) password, is to create a phrase or selection of random words together. Something like Grass Silver Calculator Seven is a random combination of words that is simple enough to remember but difficult to guess. Google has a great guide for creating a strong password.

Here a few tips:

  • Make it unique – Use a different password for each of your important accounts.
  • Make it long – A password should be at least 12 characters.
  • Don’t include personal info – This includes birth dates, street addresses, or the name of your child or pet.

2. Update your recovery contact information

Often we rely on recovery information to get back in to our accounts.

Recovery contact information usually includes a different email or phone number linked to the account you’re trying to access. They can help you reset your password when:

  • You have forgotten your password
  • You think someone else is using your account
  • You’ve been locked out of your account after a cyber attack

However, if an unwanted individual gains access to your account, your recovery options might be at risk too. So, make sure you update them as well as your main account.

And remember to keep these recovery options up to date and secure, you never know when you might need them.

3. Advise your email contacts so they know to question suspicious emails

If you have been hacked then you need to alert your email contacts so that they can identify suspicious activity.

Just a tip ― it’s best to do this in another medium other than email so they aren’t mixed up with the suspicious emails. Contact your contacts by phone, or even put out a social media post.

However, if you have to alert some contacts via email, see below for a template:

To our contacts,

We have recently been made aware that (insert your business’s name) has been targeted by criminal activity.

We became aware of this on (insert incident date). A malicious actor may try to/may have emailed our contacts impersonating our business and staff. These emails may be in relation to invoices, requests for large transfers, or to changing banking details for payments. The following accounts were compromised (insert hacked/impersonated email address).

If you receive an email from (your business name) that matches this description, please ignore the email’s contents and send it to us for investigation. Please also check with your bank whether any payments have been made to fake invoices or fraudulent bank details.

Please remain vigilant, the malicious actor may continue to impersonate our employees, including email signature, names and email addresses. If you are suspicious of any email you receive from (your business’s name), please contact us via a phone number you know is correct for confirmation.


Your business’s name

4. Change your security question/s

After a cyber attack it’s important to change your security questions too. It may be unclear how the attacker hacked your account, so all possibilities are on the table. This includes by guessing the answer to your security questions. Malicious actors can do simple research to find out the answer to common security questions like ‘What high school did you attend?’. Information like this could be on your Facebook or LinkedIn account.

5. Configure your email settings

In some cases, hackers will change your email settings to forward a copy of each email your receive to themselves. They do this so that they can scour your emails for any sensitive details that might help them log into other accounts. Check your email settings to make sure that no unwanted email addresses were added, and change if necessary.

6. Update any other accounts with the same password

We recommend that you use a different password for every account you have. This is because once an account is compromised, any account that has the same login details can also now be easily accessed.

Use the site Have I Been Pwned to see if your password has been compromised, or look here for any compromised email addresses.

7. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

If you you’re not already using it, MFA will help reduce of the risk of account compromise in the future. It does this by requesting something you know (e.g. a password), something you have (e.g. a mobile phone), and something you are (e.g. fingerprint).

A Venn diagram explaining what Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is.

8. Perform a security scan for malware

Malware is software specifically designed to gain unauthorised access to a system. If you don’t have a tool to scan for malware, here are some great anti-malware programs you can use:

types of malware

9. If you haven’t already, implement the ‘Essential Eight’ as laid out by the ACSC

The Essential Eight is easy to remember and an effective list of strategies you can use to reduce your risk of attack. We’ve given an overview of these steps here in an easy-to-read format. These are a must-do, regardless of if you have had a cyber attack.

10. Do not engage the blackmailer

If you’re a victim of a ransomware cyber attack, then it can be tempting to just pay the attacker. After all, once you’ve paid everything will return to normal, right? Not exactly.

Our advice (and advice from the ACSC) is to never pay the ransom. It might seem like the quickest and easiest solution, but there are some serious second and third order consequences of paying a ransom.

  1. Paying the ransom will not guarantee the restoration of all your data. Research suggests that only 8% of companies who pay a ransom manage to recover all their data. Often hackers cannot decrypt their own files even after receiving the ransom.
  2. If you pay the ransom, you are incentivising hackers to continue deploying ransomware attacks.

You can read this article for some great steps to take when confronted with cyber blackmail.

11. Contact the ACSC for support

The ACSC (Australian Cyber Security Centre) is the Australian resource and body for reporting any cyber attacks you may experience. The ACSC will evaluate your crime report and can direct your case to relevant law enforcement.

12. Call your financial institution and freeze the account/s

Alert your bank/financial institution that you suspect sensitive information has been stolen or accessed. If you’ve noticed that suspicious activity has occurred, you can have your account cancelled or suspended. Alternatively, you can submit a request for a 90-day alert. This will allow you to continue to use your financial account, but the account will be monitored for any suspicious transactions.

If a customer or client has lost money due to the cyber attack, encourage them to report it to their financial institution.

13. Communicate with your team and keep them updated

Effective communication can stop a bad situation from getting worse. It’s important that you:

  • Ensure you have open communication channels with your team
  • Be honest with your team about where things stand
  • Keep them informed so they know to be on high alert
  • Schedule a meeting to inform them in person, as mass emails can often go unread

14. Notify the OAIC if you need to comply with the NDBS after a cyber attack

If your business is covered by the Privacy Act 1988 then you are required to notify the OAIC of a data breach that is likely to result in serious harm to individual’s whose personal information is at risk. For more, you can read our guide on the Notifiable Data Breaches Scheme (NDBS).

15. Notify any affected users

In addition to notifying the OAIC, you are required to notify any individuals who may be harmed by the data breach due to their personal information being compromised. The OAIC has a guide on how to go about notifying affected users of a data breach.

16. Follow your Business Continuity Plan

A business continuity plan is a easy-to-follow documented plan on how your business can prepare for and recover from a cyber attack. If you don’t have a business continuity planyou need to make one now.

A business continuity plan should contain all critical business information needed to ensure your business can quickly get back up and running following an incident. This includes contingencies for business processes, assets, human resources and business partners. In short, a plan for every aspect of your business that could be affected.

To cover everything a business continuity plan should include is out of scope for this article. But at the very least, you want to include:

  • A risk management plan
  • An incident response plan
  • A recovery plan
  • A testing, evaluation and update schedule

Click here for a business continuity plan template.

17. Restore from a back-up

Data backups ensure you have a copy of systems ready to be restored immediately. It’s important to schedule regular backups for your system and keep them stored safely. Not just because of potential cyber attacks either, it’s not unheard of for simple acts of human error to result in significant loss of business data.

Here’s a guide to back up for Windows. Alternatively, you can talk to your IT managed service provider about ongoing backups for your network.

18. Isolate the infected site (disconnect endpoints and server from rest of the network)

You don’t need to shut down your entire network. In fact, that could do more harm than good. Quickly isolate infected devices to limit the impact of the attack. Your security protection software should have a guide for doing this (e.g. Symantec ATP). From there, your incident response team can analyse the attack and identify if any damage occurred.

19. Call IT security professionals for specialised assistance

If you don’t have a managed services provider then you should find a reputable team to assist you with your issue. Then, look at implementing IT managed services for your business to prevent the issue in future.

20. Refresh your cyber security training for yourself and your team

You’ll want to brush up on your cyber security training while the attack is fresh in your team’s mind. Most IT service teams will offer this as a service to your business. Cyber security training will give you and your team the knowledge needed to stay safe online. If largescale cyber security training isn’t within your budgetary capabilities, there are some helpful online resources you can use to build your cyber security knowledge.

21. Review monitoring systems to identify and understand how the threat entered

The following network monitoring tools can help with this:

22. Document the process from identification, to containment and recovery

Creating cyber security documentation of an incident is a great way to provide valuable learning for future events. You can also use documentation to improve your Business Continuity Plan. Take note of:

  • How the threat entered
  • How it was managed
  • What can improve

Cyber security documentation is often neglected, however it can contain valuable information that helps limit the impact of future attacks.

23. Consider employing an IT company to perform network monitoring and manage your cyber security

There are plenty of reasons why your business needs a managed service provider. Perhaps most importantly, managed IT services are one of the most cost effective ways to protect your business from a cyber attack. Employing a cyber security professional full-time doesn’t come cheap. Often it makes sense to outsource your cyber security management instead.

managed services provider skills

24. Report the Cyber Security Incident to ACSC

Reporting to the ACSC helps them identify greater patters of cyber attacks and in the development of new policies. You can submit a report here.

25. Report the scam to ACCC

Finally, you can report scams to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Reporting to the ACCC means they can advise Australian businesses about new scams to watch out for, creating a stronger cyber security resilience in the population. You can submit a report here.


Hopefully you never need these tips. A cyber attack is a stressful event, no matter what size your business is. However, by reading these tips you’re in a much stronger position to identify and respond to a cyber attack.

If you’re concerned your business is under threat, click here. Simply fill out the form and you’ll get a free 30-minute consultation.

Lastly, try our free online cyber security assessment to receive expert recommendations on how you can make your business more secure.