The dangers of online attackers

Written by Isabel Burgess

We all know how frustrating it is when all you want to do is watch the Game of Thrones finale and the old ‘software pop-up’ takes up half your screen because said ‘software’ needs to run in order for your video to continue.  Of course nobody has time to wait, so you ‘accept’ and continue watching. Perhaps GOT isn’t your thing and you spend more of your time scrolling Facebook and Instagram for entertainment. It is highly likely you’ve, at some point, had a friend request from someone you’ve never seen before in your life, but hey, what’s the harm in new friends right?

As young media professionals, we often think we are above online baits or traps, and that this behaviour is easily detectable, however as we become more tech-savvy, so too do online ‘attackers’.

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Today’s well-known notion of consumerism comes with a desire to have our needs met instantly, with little consideration given to the consequences of ‘sharing’ our lives on social media. This consumer culture is elevating instant gratification; the “quick and immediate attainability of satisfaction and happiness,” to life’s primary goal. This increased impatience could be a serious threat to the safety of our future selves and communities.   

The plethora of benefits associated with the Internet and the technologically advancing world we live in are accompanied by some evils that were previously unheard of: cyber stalking and identity theft. We are continually plugged in to the Internet and social media via our smartphones, tablets, computers and even watches, bringing us real news in real time. However, what we may not realize is just how easily someone can steal your identity or learn almost as much about you as your best friend.

Cyberstalking is currently one of the most overlooked crimes, and one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. The Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria defines stalking as, “following someone around or leaving messages on their phone or online, and deliberately trying to make them feel scared.” What makes cyber stalking worse is that there is virtually no awareness of it. Those affected more often do not want damage their name or reputation by drawing attention to it and struggle to find the right kind of help.

Identity theft on the other hand is a type of fraud involving the use of someone else’s identity to steal money or other benefits. According to the Australian Federal Police, the Attorney General’s Department recently estimated the current cost of identity crime in Australia to be upwards of $1.6 billion each year, with around $900 million lost by individuals through credit card fraud, identity theft and scams. This identity crime then becomes a key enabler of serious organized crime, costing Australia around $15 billion each year.

Identity theft comes in many forms, including phishing , hacking, remote access scams, malware and ransomware, fake online profiles, and document theft, to name a few. As well as the ‘GOT’ and friend request scenarios already given, some other common warning signs we may come across on a daily basis include, messages asking you to ‘validate’ or ‘confirm’ your personal details by following a link, an unusual location on an account login, money missing from a bank account, credit cards being declined, or being unable to log into a social media or email account. It is without a doubt at least one of these scenarios has happened to you, and you probably shrugged it off and forgot about it.

A newer method of ‘phishing’ is called cross-site scripting; whereby an attacker will post, for example on a website that allows users to leave comments, but instead of posting a comment they will post a script. Other users will then often be redirected by this script to a phishing website, that looks identical to the original website, rather than a comment or review. As media and communication students and media professionals, we (generally) have a lot to say, and leaving a comment or a review may be a common occurrence for the likes of us. We are by no means safe from these kinds of ‘attacks’.

In March 2019, Nine news reported a 22-year-old Sydney man charged over “a sophisticated identity theft and fraud syndicate using ‘phone porting’.” It was reported that in the space of 8 months, he compromised up to 70 victims’ accounts, with fraudulent transactions totaling more than $100,000.00, by stealing their phone number and using it to gain access to bank accounts. The police alleged it was done by “porting a victim’s mobile number to a new carrier… and contacting a financial institution to reset account details and passwords to gain access.” Many mobile pay apps were then registered to the accounts, enabling overseas transfers and a fraudulent online shopping spree. Sounds pretty simple right? How many of you have done the old “Forgot my password” trick?

A conservative estimate based on police reports, shows at least a $10 million dollar loss in the community in the last twelve months, from ‘phone porting’ enabled crimes.

Another familiar incident was the Jennifer-Lawrence-Nude-Photo incident. The Queensland Times reported that a man has recently been jailed for 18 months in the US “after illegally accessing pictures belonging to the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton… between November 2012 and September 2014.” It was alleged he used a software program to download the entire contents of the victims’ Apple iCloud backups, as well as running a modeling scam in which he tricked his victims into sending him nude photographs. It was reported he accessed content belonging to 50 Apple iCloud users and 72 Gmail users across the web. Jennifer Lawrence, labeled it a “sex crime…a sexual violation”.

Whilst the Internet has connected the world into a global village of different traditions and cultures, it has also enabled online ‘attackers’. An added part of the danger is the fact that modern technology makes it much easier for hackers and cybercriminals to cover their tracks. They use cyber securityThe Dangers of Online AttackersThe Dangers of Online Attackers services, like proxies and remote servers, to their unfair advantage Almost anyone can become completely anonymous and invisible online. Remember media professionals… the more we share, the more we should care!

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