Monday 17 August at 8.30pm on ABC1
“I expect at some stage in the future there will be a real debate on the benefit of the internet. Should we turn it off?” Police officer
There’s little doubt the internet has changed our lives for the better. You can book holidays, do your banking and pay bills online. But do you realise how easy it is for a cyber-crook to take control of your computer without you even knowing it?
Imagine this! You go to book tickets at a reputable theatre web site. That site has been infected by mal-ware. By simply clicking on that site your computer can become a slave to a central computer and join millions of other infected computers in what’s called a ‘botnet’. Immediately it is possible for a criminal to steal information from you, including your bank and credit card details but the thief can do even more. Your computer could be used to send thousands of spam emails a day to people around the world. It could even be used to attack businesses, or even entire countries. And you wouldn’t notice a thing.
It sounds remarkable but, as Four Corners explains, one in six computers in Australia is, or has been, part of a ‘botnet’ and a ‘botnet’ attack has already destroyed a major business. Other ‘botnet’ attacks have resulted in personal information being stolen and then sold on the international black-market. The result? Bank accounts are emptied and millions of dollars stolen.
Police told Four Corners they are now so concerned by this type of crime they have set up covert operations on the web to infiltrate illicit marketplaces.
“We obtained access to one of these sites and we were quite stunned initially by what we saw. I think the term’s been used, an Aladdin’s cave of criminality, an opportunity to inflict global economic harm.” Police investigator
The police have every reason to be concerned. Despite the fact that major banks, utilities and retail outlets encourage you to do business on the web (saving them money), they don’t reveal how vulnerable you are to web theft. Many Australians have found out the hard way. One Brisbane man who spoke to reporter Andrew Fowler told how he had his phone and internet cut off and $80,000 stolen from his bank accounts, after replying to a message purportedly from his bank.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near its peak. I think we’re just a small swell building. This is going to get much bigger.” Police Investigator
Authorities are now working hard to keep up with the crooks. They are having trouble though. Crooks working from countries in Eastern Europe are hard to catch. Home-grown criminals are easier to bring down, but police reveal the legal system doesn’t treat cyber-theft with the seriousness it deserves. One young man stole more than 50,000 credit card details but received a suspended one year sentence, $2,000 good behaviour bond and court costs of $150.
Adding to the problem, most computer users don’t realise how vulnerable they are. Four Corners took an e-security expert to an ordinary city street and asked him to assess computer security. Using a basic wireless interceptor our expert found he could tap into up to 20 per cent of wireless computer networks, potentially accessing bank accounts and other personal information. Even those systems that had been encrypted took just 10 minutes to crack. No wonder police are warning we are right to have FEAR IN THE FAST LANE.
The program goes to air on Monday 17th August at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is repeated on Tuesday 18th at 11.35pm.