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What it's like to be hacked: 2 businesses tell their stories

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

We uncover the financial, reputational and emotional impacts faced by two small Aussie businesses that have been victims of an online attack.

Hacker working on a laptop

An online security breach can have major consequences for a business. It can take days, weeks or even months to repair the financial and reputational damage caused– if they recover at all. And the stress can weigh heavy. Here, two Aussie businesses – a balloon supply company and a cleaning and maintenance service provider – give us an insight into the aftermath of getting hacked. They both agree on one thing: they wish they had a cyber security strategy in place to help prevent an attack in the first place.

Financial impacts

When the website for George’s* balloon supply business was taken over by hackers, he faced a two-week period of forced downtime. The criminals hijacked the website and took over the homepage with a ransom message, so it was unusable for customers. After several failed attempts to regain control of the page himself, George finally decided to hire an expert. He estimates he lost over $20,000 in sales and commissions and it cost him $5,000 to have the website repaired by a professional. The total financial loss far exceeds what it would have cost to develop a cyber security plan (like putting in preventative measures and setting up an incident response plan) – which, along with having his business website set up securely from the get-go, is something George wishes he had invested in.

Reputational damage

Henry’s* cleaning and maintenance business website was taken over by hackers for two days, so customers weren’t able to view his services or make a booking online. Customers are often looking to book his services at the last minute – but without a functioning website, new customers would have been deterred, possibly to never return. Because Henry had to manually manage bookings, there were some operational hiccups. He was delegating tasks to his team by phone, which slowed things down and affected the service his customers received. Henry can’t be sure how many sales he missed or how the perception of his business has changed among existing customers. But like George, he wishes he was more prepared. “If we had the right online security measures in place, we may not have had a breach,” he says.

Emotional toll

George says the “stress and grey hair” from the incident was equal to the financial hit. Because his website developer had “washed their hands of it” and he didn’t have a reliable cyber security expert, he was unsupported through the ordeal. He feels cyber crime is even more difficult to handle than physical crime, or an attack on his premises. “It would’ve been a million times better if somebody came around with a brick and smashed a window,” he says. Henry agrees – he describes the period as exhausting and stressful. As well as the business’s bottom line and reputation, his customers’ private information was also at stake, which he feared could put his clients at risk.

How a cyber security plan can help

There are steps you can put in place to help safeguard your business from an online attack. Ensuring your business website is built and hosted securely is a must – and it might even give customers more reason to choose your business when shopping around. A cyber security expert can help you identify any gaps in your online defence and give you the proper advice to tighten them up. They can also help you act quickly and appropriately to minimise damages if a security breach does occur. If you’re unsure about how your business’s cyber security fares, try giving it a health check. You can read George’s and Henry’s full stories in the free Telstra Business Intelligence report on Managing Risks Online. Plus, get access to more business case studies, advice from experts (including Microsoft and the eSafety Commissioner) and actionable tips to shore up your online security.

*Not their real names.

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