‘Opportunistic’ cybercriminals cost Irish economy €9.6bn in 2020

Vigilance urged as pandemic prompts rise in ransomware attacks and card fraud

Cybercrime cost the Irish economy €9.6 billion last year, with businesses, consumers and Government organisations becoming extra vulnerable to fraud as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded, according to a new report by professional services firm Grant Thornton.

The overall toll of ransomware, phishing, credit and debit card fraud and other attacks has increased exponentially since 2014, when the cost to the economy was estimated to be €630 million, Grant Thornton said in its Economic Cost of Cyber report.

Ransomware attacks, in which cybercriminals demand payment for the release of compromised materials, was by far the most significant form of cybercrime noted in 2020, it said.

The cost of ransomware attacks alone crossed the €2 billion mark in 2020, with this figure including ransoms paid as well as indirect costs such as infrastructure and IT bills and the reputational damage incurred.


The report also notes a 100 per cent rise in computer viruses and a 20 per cent increase in phishing attacks, in which fraudulent communications purporting to be from reputable sources are sent to businesses and consumers.

"We are all very much aware of the risk of cybercrime to businesses and indeed, to consumers, but as a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged in the past decade or so, many businesses and individuals are still grappling with how to insulate against this threat," said Mike Harris, head of cybersecurity services at Grant Thornton.

The rapid changes wrought by the onset of the pandemic were exploited by fraudsters, who saw the crisis as a chance to take advantage of a sense of panic among people and organisations and the widespread unfamiliarity with how new processes worked.

“Cybercriminals are innovative and opportunistic. This means we also need to be innovative in how we mitigate against potential cyberattack risks,” he said.

“Ransomware attacks, for example, were once targeted mainly at consumers but we now know businesses, organisations and governments are the main targets for these types of crimes.”

Cybercrime can have “huge consequences” for balance sheets, data protection and the overall reputation of organisations, Grant Thornton concluded, with the ongoing threats requiring businesses to review their systems and test their IT and infrastructure for potential weaknesses.

BPFI figures

Meanwhile, the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) said the cost of payment card fraud hit €24.1 million in 2020, with more than 275,000 fraudulent transactions recorded last year.

Card fraud losses rose 9 per cent compared to 2019, with almost all of this accounted for by a surge in online card fraud, which rose 21 per cent to €23.1 million.

The industry body is warning consumers to be extra vigilant as pre-Christmas shopping gets under way.

"With more of us shopping online than ever before due to the ongoing pandemic, our latest card fraud figures are a stark reminder that consumers need to be on high alert during what is the busiest online shopping period of the year," said BPFI head of payments Gillian Byrne.

“With concerns around rising Covid figures drawing ever more consumers online, fraudsters are again stepping up their efforts to take advantage of this increase in online shopping,” she said.

“The banking industry is working hard to protect customers through better detection and fraud monitoring systems which are in place, however, we must all must remain vigilant against scams.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics