Feds tout malware as Australia's biggest cyber threat

Inside the Australian High Tech Crime Centre’s war on cyber crime.

The director of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre believes that the diversity of malware and its abilities to circumvent security products, is the greatest threat on the local cyber crime landscape.

The AHTCC investigates and combats cyber crime through co-ordination between Australian law enforcement, federal government, industry bodies and other organisations, as well as international agencies such as the Virtual Global Taskforce. It is hosted in Canberra by the Australian Federal Police.

AHTCC director, James McCormack, said that over the past decade cyber crime has evolved from an era when hackers conducted devious activities for glory rather than malevolent reasons, to one where online crime is professional and almost exclusively motivated by financial gain.

This change in landscape has seen cyber crime rise to a podium place in the competition for the most significant criminal threat facing the nation.

"I can tell you right now that (AFP) Commissioner [Mick] Keelty and all the other commissioners around Australia view cyber crime as one of their highest priorities. Obviously terrorism is high at the top of the list, but cyber crime is one of those emerging crime types that has certainly caught their eye and they are devoting significant resources to it. Not just for the AFP -- that is across the board," McCormack told Computerworld.

"The thing that keeps me awake at night is the increasing range and capabilities of malicious software. I think malware is our greatest threat and I think it's very important for businesses and Australian consumers to take the appropriate steps to protect themselves."

McCormack said that on the whole Australians tend to be very good at keeping anti-virus programs up to date, installing legitimate copies of software and ensuring operating systems have the most up-to-date patches, more so than our neighbouring counterparts in Asia.

But he feels there is much work to be done in educating the public about identifying threats, judging the trustworthiness of emails - particularly those that purport to come from a bank, and following links to unknown Web sites from unsolicited sources.

"The scams that concern me the most are really the phishing ones. Surprisingly, there are still a lot of people that click on links to phishing sites, the sophistication of the emails they are getting these days have improved over the past couple of years - fewer spelling mistakes and much more polished," he said.

In February, an Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce spokesperson told Computerworld that it estimated Australians were being duped out of $700 million in phishing and other advanced fee frauds each year.

"This is a big industry. Conservative figures suggest about US$105 billion a year across the world in online crime, and these are conservative figures," McCormack said.

"The online criminals -- I hesitate to use the word gang, but there are groupings of people -- are actually devoting a lot of time, resources and effort looking at what the Internet will look like in the future and how they can design their products, for want of a better word, to continue to exploit vulnerabilities.

"One of the [security software] vendors identified 700,000 new malware variants in the last year alone. Threats are growing at an astronomical rate, often because we're seeing automation brought into the process of writing malicious software. We're also seeing the people that are doing this adopt a much cleverer approach."

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Andrew Hendry

Computerworld
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