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Why is Anonymous hacking Australia?

A few days ago, Anonymous activists hacked into AAPT, stole 40GB of data including customer information and forced offline ten Australian government websites. Anonymous members stated in an online internet…

Hacktivists are campaigning against the Australian government’s proposed changes to privacy laws. Tina Mailhot-Roberge

A few days ago, Anonymous activists hacked into AAPT, stole 40GB of data including customer information and forced offline ten Australian government websites.

Anonymous members stated in an online internet relay chat (IRC) interview with the ABC that the hacking attacks were part of an ongoing campaign against the government’s proposed changes to privacy laws.

Privacy changes

One of the proposed changes being discussed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) in an inquiry into potential reforms of national security legislation is a requirement for internet service providers (ISPs) to store user online activity for two years.

This means that everything you do, from social networking, emails, web browsing, chat sessions, Skype sessions and so on would be monitored, stored and made available to government intelligence agencies as and when needed.

Last week, it was reported on the website Slashdot that Microsoft had made Skype easier to monitor. Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a privacy advocacy group, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying:

The issue is, to what extent are our communications being purpose-built to make surveillance easy?

When you make it easy to do, law enforcement is going to want to use it more and more. If you build it, they will come.

During the ABC IRQ interview, Anonymous representatives made the following statement against increased government surveillance of the online world:

Whilst our own rights to privacy dwindle, corporate rights to commercial confidentiality and intellectual property skyrocket. Whilst we no longer know about many of the activities of our governments, our governments have the means to accumulate unprecedented vast banks of data about us […]

The attacks are a way to draw attention to the msg we wish to deliver to the ppl of au.

The hacking attacks by Anonymous on government websites and AAPT were designed to highlight to the Australian public the difficulty of keeping stored data private. By carrying out hacking attacks and then making public pronouncements Anonymous hopes to convince Australians not to support changes to the current privacy laws.

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Data retention policies vary around the world. The European Union has had a data retention directive since 2006 that specifies types of data that are to be retained for periods of between six months and two years.

In recent weeks, the United Kingdom government has begun debating a draft Communications Data Bill that includes compulsory data retention for a wide range of information, such as websites visited, for a period of one year.

Spy games

So why are governments around the world increasing internet surveillance? Four reasons spring to mind:

1) Terrorism. The threat of terrorists using the internet to plan, support and carry out terrorist acts has prompted the Attorney-General’s Department to discuss the need to increase the powers of organisations such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD).

2) Cyber warfare. On July 19, in the first public address by a head of ASIS, Nick Warner, identified cyber warfare as a major threat:

The field of cyber operations is one of the most rapidly evolving and potentially serious threats to our national security in the coming decade.

Government departments and agencies, together with corporate Australia, have been subject to concerted efforts by external actors seeking to infiltrate sensitive computer networks.

Developments in cyber are a two-edged sword for an agency like ASIS.

They offer new ways of collecting information, but the digital fingerprints and footprints which we all now leave behind complicate the task of operating covertly.

3) Cybercrime. Criminals use the internet for their everyday activities much as any modern business does. In 2011 Symantec, a provider of internet security software, estimated the cost of cybercrime to Australians had reached about A$4.6 billion annually.

4) Hacking. Copyright and intellectual property theft over the internet has become endemic. Much of the hacking remains unreported and business has become decidedly worried about the effects of competitors gaining access to intellectual property.

Control

Governments around the world are slowly regulating the internet. Failure to do so will come at an unbearable cost to the nation, business and to individuals.

There is nothing Anonymous can do to stop this inevitable process – so why can’t they get on board? The group could highlight weaknesses in the internet, websites and business systems so that appropriate action can be taken.

To put it simply, there’s no need for Anonymous to steal data from a company and then post this data on a public website. This action is counterproductive and strengthens the government’s argument for greater regulation.

But the point Anonymous is trying to make, that Australian companies and the government cannot be trusted to securely implement a data retention scheme, is probably very true.

In the past two years, many large Australian companies have been hacked and customer information stolen including credit card details. The penalties to companies for a data breach are minor and therefore very little effort is expended by business to adequately protect customer information.

Governments around the world are stumbling forward with data retention policies without adequate plans for how the data is to be secured, how the data retention process is to be audited and by whom, and what the penalties will be for failure to ensure the data remains secure.

We are in a new phase online where the blind are leading the blind, trying to find a path towards a more secure and regulated internet that enshrines our right to privacy.

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18 Comments sorted by

  1. Bruce Moon

    Bystander!

    Mark

    Thank you for explaining in detail what the faceless people of the 51st State of the USA are seeking to implement.

    The 'rebel' in me says "GO Anonymous".

    The conservative side of me says "Back off government".

    Cheers

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  2. Bruce Waddell

    logged in via LinkedIn

    How can we comment on this article in good faith? I've had to change my name and computer address and I'm still scared.
    The truth seems to be there is no security in cyberspace. Orwell saw it all before.

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Bruce Waddell

      Hi Bruce, Barry, Fred, Joe.......

      Is this writing or someone else?

      Orwell was a master of understatement about the threats that face society. The internet is still a blank canvas, so will it become white or black?

      regards, Mark

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  3. David Nash

    logged in via Twitter

    Internet Relay Chat = IRQ?

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    1. Matt de Neef

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to David Nash

      All fixed David. :)

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  4. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    It seems an odd way to demonstrate the dangers of legal government surveillance by demonstrating that criminals seem,able to abuse everybody's privacy whenever they like.

    But I guess it all makes sense if you are a Wikileaks tragic.

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  5. Chris Caley

    Research Professional & Taxpaying Voter

    "Governments around the world are slowly regulating the internet. Failure to do so will come at an unbearable cost to the nation, business and to individuals."

    Sorry, I'm still not clear on the "unbearable cost" on failure to regulate, which surely goes beyond increased surveillance ability? Regulation surely represents a slippery slope towards the Chinese model...

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Chris Caley

      Hi Chris, I believe that the internet is just like any other aspect of society. We need to balance individual and group rights and privacy with the fight against crime, terrorism and cyber attacks. this is done through legislation and regulation. Finding the right balance is the task ahead for governments around the world.
      regards, Mark Gregory

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    2. Rodger Kensen

      Systems Analyst

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Which I guess proves the point that their attempts at regulation are inept.

      Unlike other aspects of our society, the internet is global and most terrorists, criminals and cyber attacks occur externally from the country out of reach of any of the proposed changes or regulations.

      As you point out its "the blind leading the blind" with governments "stumbling forward". Even China isn't really across the area of policing the population as much as they would have us believe, except perhaps in the area of corporate espionage.

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  6. Ben Cornwell

    Systems Manager

    An informative post but I'd like to point out - reason four "hacking": This is not synonymous to copyright infringement or intellectual property theft. Hacking is more like a form digital trespassing than illegal file sharing.

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  7. Mark A. Lane

    Unemployed Information and Communications Technology Professional. at A dole queue near you.

    Interesting synopsis....

    errāre hūmānum est.

    Hopefully, all parties concerned will patch the defects in the current / proposed OS's, App's, DB's, Legislation's, etc...

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  8. Karl Hayden

    Engineer

    Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

    - BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, November 11, 1755

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Karl Hayden

      Hi Karl,
      I'm not sure Benjamin Franklin was talking about the internet but heh I'm sure he was a donor to wikileaks. The key issues with the internet today are the trade-off between privacy and security versus crime and cyberwarfare. This is a classic case of good versus evil. How far do you go to defeat evil? We need to protect our rights to privacy and personal security when using the internet and also trust our government to tackle the bad guys on our behalf. Should we trust the government? I think so, they are our best hope for a better future. If not then there is always the next election....
      regards, Mark

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    2. Karl Hayden

      Engineer

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      We like to think we are self-reliant individuals - but the reality is that we have a blind trust in government to solve all our problems and a complete reliance upon them. We may as well give up and go into some collective child care where they can look after us and we can just behave like good, compliant automatons. The old adage of it governs best that governs least still applies - but we are prepared to give up our privacy to faceless people in Canberra and elsewhere with "our" interests at heart…

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  9. Umer Khan

    logged in via LinkedIn

    1. Users should try free/paid vpn services which hide the original IP and use IP address of the vpn server (mostly offshore) so it is hard to track down original IP. These services are popular also to access blocked content in countries like China which sensor their internet.
    2. Now there is anonymous mood available in browsers like Google Chrome (Incognito mood) which claim it is tracking free but you cannot be sure since you are depending on Google`s word for it.
    3. Users should try to use https browsing where ever applicable (Facebook, Gmail) since secure tunnel is safer between end user and website. It is illegal by most regulatory laws to break a secure connection however, it is technically possible. But even if someone tries to break tunnel, user gets some kind of notification and can take appropriate action.

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  10. Comment removed by moderator.