Secret criminal chat world of 'online underground'

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Authors

Katina MichaelUniversity of Wollongong
Rebecca BriceABC Radio
Dan DeFillipiWeb Designer
Glen McEwanAustralian Federal Police

Abstract

Fraudsters, hackers and other cyber criminals are taking to synchronous online messaging systems to communicate and even educate one another while evading police detection, according to an academic from the University of Wollongong.

MARK COLVIN: Law enforcement officials trying to crack cyber crime are increasingly focussing on what's known as the Deepnet, or the hidden web. That's the virtually untraceable level of the internet where many criminals communicate with each other.

An Australian academic says fraudsters, hackers and child pornographers don't just transact business on the Deepnet, they also use it as a sort of college of crime.

But there's an upside to the secrecy, as human rights organisations adopt similar approaches to expose abuses.

Rebecca Brice reports.

REBECCA BRICE: That online chatter is getting harder to police, according to Katina Michael, an associate professor from the University of Wollongong's School of Information Systems and Technology.

KATINA MICHAEL: Well since the mid 1990s, when the internet came about, criminals have sought new ways to communicate online. And they've done this using traditional things like newsgroups.

Some of the more way that they're getting to become undetected, however, is using things like internet relay chat. And internet relay chat allows for synchronous communications. That's communication which is not stored and you've got to be online to read and receive and send messages at any one point in time. So they're becoming increasingly elusive.

REBECCA BRICE: They use these methods, I presume, to avoid police?

KATINA MICHAEL: Yes they do. And because there's so much data out there, and because the communications are synchronous, it's very hard for police to actually detect these kinds of communications.

And the other thing is, they're actually not committing a particular crime sometimes by discussing certain elements of activities. They may not be saying that they've actually done it, but they are sharing details about, for example, ATM (automatic teller machine) machines or sharing information about skimming devices or technology.

REBECCA BRICE: Child pornographers use the same methods, she says.

Synchronous messaging is also being adopted by those reporting crimes.

Katina Michael.

KATINA MICHAEL: There are lots of human rights splinter organisations trying to use the same techniques to report on crimes against humanity.

REBECCA BRICE: And this is if they're going undercover to try to track human rights abuses, is that your understanding of how it's used?

KATINA MICHAEL: That's right. So they would necessarily go into an area of which they would wish to be undetected, perhaps do some first person interviewing, perhaps capture some video evidence or other proceeds and then go back and report on these in the first world.

MARK COLVIN: Associate professor Katina Michael from the University of Wollongong with Rebecca Brice.

Suggested Citation

Katina Michael, Rebecca Brice, Dan DeFillipi, and Glen McEwan. "Secret criminal chat world of 'online underground'" PM - News & Current Affairs Mar. 2013.

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Natural disasters and early warning systems in Australia

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Authors

Emma PapaemanuelSBS
Katina MichaelUniversity of Wollongong
Peter JohnstonARUP

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Original streamed @ http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/greek/

Abstract

Australia's national emergency warning system alerts. Radio program in Greek.

Suggested Citation

Emma Papaemanuel, Katina Michael, and Peter Johnston. "Natural disasters and early warning systems in Australia" SBS Greek Language Radio Jan. 2013: 7.30 a.m.-7.45 a.m..
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/kmichael/319

Cyber terrorists 'a real threat'

DRINKING water supplies, sanitation and telephone exchanges would be prime targets in the event of a cyber attack on the region, a University of Wollongong expert has warned.

Dr Katina Michael, an associate professor in the university's informatics faculty, said a computer-based attack could be launched for a variety of reasons, ranging from corporate espionage to terrorism, and the consequences might be devastating.

"The main things to hit are [telephone] exchanges but also water supply - water is very much linked to electricity - and so on. Sewerage is another one - as soon as you get rid of sanitation in an area, we have the spread of disease," she said.

Dr Michael, who also lectures at the university's Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, said Telstra exchanges, which act as a vital hub for internet and telephone services, were particularly vulnerable.

"If they wanted to knock out an exchange ... it's probably quite easy [because] it's a single building and unprotected; you walk past Telstra exchanges," she said.

And a strike at the region's economic heart via the computer systems of BlueScope Steel wouldn't be difficult "at all".

She said the biggest risk came from so-called "social engineering" attacks, where employees are tricked into giving up sensitive details like usernames and passwords, which are then used to "walk through the front door" of computer systems.

A BlueScope spokesman said all computer services at the steelworks were outsourced to multi-national technology-services company CSC, which has an office in Coniston.

A CSC spokeswoman said the company could not discuss individual clients, but said CSC was at the forefront of cyber defence.

It is also possible that Wollongong City Council's IT systems could come under attack, bringing vital services to a halt, or resulting in the theft of ratepayers' personal details from databases.

In August, a teenage hacker from rural Victoria gained unrestricted access to the files of Ballarat City Council, resulting in a week-long shutdown of the council's computer network.

A Wollongong City Council spokeswoman said the threat of a cyber attack was taken "very seriously".

Dr Michael's warning came as more than 50 Australian organisations faced simulated cyber attacks as part of an international security exercise dubbed Cyber Storm III.

Citation: Matthew Jones, October 9, 2010, "Cyber terrorists 'a real threat'", Illawarra Mercury, p. 21.