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'Shocking' ANU Email Hack Has Cybersecurity Experts Deeply Concerned

Cybersecurity experts are renewing their advice following a hacking attack on the Australian National University which began from a single email.

The university last week revealed the attack began after a staff member was sent an email infected with a virus.

The email only had to be previewed -- so no link was clicked and the message didn't have to be opened -- for the hackers to access ANU's network.

Vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt described it as "shocking in its sophistication".

The university is keeping further technical information about the attack close to its chest, as it attempts to strike a balance between transparency and security.

However, AAP understands software and security were up to date on the computer which was targeted.

The report into last November's attack has rattled the cybersecurity industry, with expert Darren Hopkins saying the community has reached out to the university to get "absolute clarification" over how it happened.

Their main cause of concern is that the email only had to be previewed to allow the attack.

READ MORE'State Of The Art' Cyber Attack On Australian Uni Shocks Experts

Hopkins had previously advised clients to check the contents of an email to see if it was legitimate or not.

"I don't know how any of us are going to do business if we can't open our emails," he told AAP.

"The way we're being attacked now is designed to make it really difficult for us to detect it."

In order to stay on the front foot, his team are altering their approach to cyber forensics by looking for unusual behaviour in computer systems, as well as vulnerabilities.

Image: Getty

Hopkins has worked in cybersecurity for more than two decades, including a stint on law enforcement teams.

On average, in cases he's seen, hackers spend about four to six weeks undetected in a network, while about $700,000 is lost.

Hopkins said $10.8 million was once swiped in one transaction.

Cybercrime is estimated to cost the global economy $2 trillion, while $600 billion is spent on protection.

READ MOREAustralian Uni Hit With Huge Data Breach Going Back 19 Years

Hopkins says people should check they've activated existing security settings on their computer and email.

He urges people to also think about how they deal with information, saying anything unnecessary should be deleted.

"What do we leave in our mailboxes when we probably shouldn't?" he said.

"How do we save things when we shouldn't even keep them?"

Data released on Monday by the Australian Cyber Security Centre has revealed a cyber crime is reported every 10 minutes across the nation.

"It always seems to align back to organised crime or, when there's no money involved, you tend to hear comments that it's possibly a foreign state," Hopkins said.

Cyber Attack Methods
  • Phishing email: An email designed to look legitimate to snare the receiver in a scam, typically tricking them into providing information or be directed elsewhere on the internet where credentials will be taken.
  • Malware: Refers to a range of viruses and custom software designed to get around IT controls, and give someone access to or damage a system.
  • Ransomware: When attackers want to get into a system to either make data unreadable by turning it into code or lock it up and refuse to give it back unless a ransom is paid.