The war in Ukraine bred online chaos as bands of hackers on both sides battle on the digital frontline, heightening the risk of cyber crime across the board.  

One company that has been watching this from the virtual and physical sidelines is Acronis, a Swiss–Singaporean global data protection software company. 

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Founded in Singapore in 2003 by Russian-born Singaporean citizen Serg Bell, and incorporated in Switzerland in 2008, its current CEO, Patrick Pulvermüller, tells fDi that reported incidents of cyber crime, such as ransomware, have increased as the war has provided cyber criminals with an “excuse” for chaos online. The knock-on effect of this has been that Acronis’s customers now want local staff to add a human touch to reach somebody in the country in case of an emergency.

Local staff not just local data

“Four months ago, the data needed to be local, not the people. Now, our customers request that our staff are local. Luckily, we had built our organisational structure in that way. We are in 37 offices all around the world and our market teams are all local,” he says.

Acronis launched 18 data centres over the past year, notably in eastern Europe, including in Romania, Latvia and Finland.

Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in the EU in 2018, the company has been expanding its data centres across Europe to cater to the data localisation requests of businesses, despite the lack of such obligations in the legislation.

“It all started with GDPR and other regulation additions. Four or five years ago, one or two locations were enough because companies didn’t care if they were based in one country and their data in another. But that changed significantly with the expectation for data to be in one country,” he says. 

Due to having local people in the countries neighbouring Ukraine and Russia, Acronis joined part of the war effort by providing humanitarian aid to refugees in February. 

First, it ensured that its employees and business partners were safe, Mr Pulvermüller says, then it provided displaced people with jobs in their offices in Romania, Poland or Munich. The Acronis Cyber Foundation also pledged $500,000 in humanitarian aid.

Acronis had already stopped its Russian business in 2017 on account of a small market, little growth and concerns over regulation. Mr Pulvermüller says the company never entered the Chinese market for similar reasons.

Half about money, half about destruction

According to research company Cybersecurity Ventures, ransomware cost the world $20bn in 2021 — a toll that is expected to rise to $265bn by 2031.

Mr Pulvermüller also remarks that the Ukraine war has brought so-called ‘wiperware’ to the fore, equalling ransomware in threat. Wiperware is a class of malware which does not hold a company’s data to ransom, but simply deletes it.

He says that from two weeks after February 24, “half of the cyber attacks [Acronis is] seeing are about money, the other half are about pure destruction”. 

Asked whether cyber warfare is more of a threat than physical conflict, he says that “with the right cyber warfare you can make any and every physical asset redundant. If there’s no IT, it stands still; if it stands still, it can’t produce anything; and if it can’t produce anything, it’s worth nothing,” he explains.

Yet, despite the world drifting towards localisation and, rather disconcertingly, destruction, Mr Pulvermüller is confident that one integral corporate community is what is needed in a divided world.

“No matter where you come from, where you grew up, what language you speak, I want to ensure that everyone at Acronis is really working towards our joint mission of protection,” he says.

“A divided world, but one company and one culture,” he quips. 

This article first appeared in the June/July 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence. Read the online edition of the magazine here.