Crooks stalking net banks
Source: Australian IT
By Mark Hollands
Date: November 04, 2003
MAFIA scams and child pornography have quickly become a focal point of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC), launched earlier this year. Australian investigators are working closely with authorities in the US, Britain and the Netherlands to crack down on identity theft and trafficking in child pornography.
Sources close to the AHTCC say its 14-member team has set up so-called ghost sites to work on a possible Russian mafia operation stealing personal online data, such as passwords and bank account numbers. AHTCC director Alastair MacGibbon says "watch this space for operation outcomes".
He refuses to confirm the Russian probe, but refers to "eastern Europe" as one theatre of operation. "We are working with a range of agencies around the world, but I cannot be specific about an ongoing operation or its geography," he says.
Leading financial institutions, such as the Commonwealth and St George banks, as well as government agencies, have had customers hit by attempts at identity theft. On each occasion the damage has been limited and the sites quickly taken down.
Australian Bankers' Association director Tony Burke says he is aware of five "incidents of ghost websites" targeting Australian bank customers.
Losses from identity theft are small compared with other types of fraud, he says. "This type of crime is not having a big impact on financial systems," he says.
The AHTCC's MacGibbon says investigators are trying to track down rogue IP addresses and those responsible for the sites, as well as agents recruited to launder stolen funds.
The centre has "a fair few" major ongoing investigations into fake bank websites and child sex offences, as well as several locally reported cases of denial-of-service attacks, MacGibbon says.
Its officers are working on an ongoing basis with the FBI Cyber Crimes Division, and its Infant Images program, as well as US Customs' Cyber Smuggling Centre, which specialises in online child pornography, industrial espionage intellectual property theft.
MacGibbon says his team has used Australian Federal Police connections with the International Police Liaison Network to help it quickly become effective on a global scale.
With more than 70 reports of internet crime each week, the AHTCC had to be "ruthless" in sifting activities to investigate from those to hand over to state police or organisations such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Businesses have been responsible for the increase in reports since the centre's launch in June, says MacGibbon, who plans to more than double staff to 30 by early next year.
"The acceptance of the AHTCC by business community has been one of the greatest successes of the operation's first four months," he says.
While reports of cybercrime have increased, this does not necessarily mean activity is greater.
"We have to be careful about compiling the statistical data because it can be easily misunderstood," MacGibbon says. "We are seeing better reporting of crime, rather than more crime. It will take us a couple of years before we can compile data that has meaning for Australia."
Burke says no successful intrusions into an Australian bank network have been reported but "problems remain on the client side".
"There has been an increase in fraud and commissioning agent schemes, albeit off a low base," Burke says. "Strong evidence suggests these are being created by organised crime syndicates. Those responsible are well-resourced teams.
"The banks are working hard to monitor the web and have rogue sites taken down as quickly as possible.
"The biggest loss is public confidence in online banking. Banks and government are very aware of this damaging element."
The bankers' association has begun talks on working more closely with the AHTCC, the AFP and the Department of Justice on monitoring online bank crime and reacting to it.
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