Treat cyber crime as an act of war: IT lecturer

Government, private sector urged to come together for the fight

A war is raging right now in cyberspace and Australians need to arm themselves accordingly against online criminals, according to one expert.

Speaking at the Korea-Australia-New Zealand (KANZ) Broadband Summit 2011 in Hobart today, University of South Australia School of Computer and Information Science senior lecturer, Dr Raymond Choo, told delegates that research and development into cyber crime tools as well as the creation of volunteer cyber defenders to inform the public were needed.

He cited recent attacks, such as the PlayStation Network hack this month where a data breach compromised the personal details of up to 77 million users worldwide, as examples of the power cyber criminals had to infiltrate networks.

Closer to home, the Australian Government Defence reported an average of 700 malicious cyber incidents targeting local defence networks in 2010.

In March, the parliamentary computers of several Australian federal ministers, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, and Defence minister, Stephen Smith, were compromised with thousands of emails accessed.

"Protection in cyberspace is not only the job of government as individuals and companies have a part to play," Choo said.

"The private sector can share resources with government to conduct investigations."

According to Choo, in a time of war the nation had to function under military command.

"For the private sector this may mean commercial opportunities and volunteer cyber defenders could participate in cyber security awareness to inform the general public about attacks," he said.

To ensure that Australia kept ahead of cyber attacks against the nation, he said the government and private sector needed to be "flexible and creative".

"If we are to be in cyberspace, we need to encourage a culture of security, innovation and information sharing," he said.

"The first two recommendations from the Standing Committee on Communications inquiry into cyber crime stressed the need for greater involvement and contribution of agency research."

The report, released in June 2010, also recommended that the Australian government establish an office of online security headed by a cyber security coordinator with expertise in cyber crime and e-security located in the Department of the prime minister and Cabinet, with responsibility for whole-of-government coordination.

According to Choo, security vendors could also help by designing state-of-the-art software that could be deployed in an online environment.

"One of the scary things is that the malware created by cyber criminals can also be used against information systems in a nation’s critical infrastructure," he said.

"Some governments may turn a blind eye to cyber criminal activities because they are seen as serving state interests."

A recent study by McAfee indicated that more than 20 million new pieces of malware were detected in 2010, which equals 55,000 malware attacks a day.

"That's very scary for everyone because some cyber criminals were very well organised and have their own research and development labs."

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags KANZ broadband summitcyber criminalssecurityRaymond ChooKorea-Australia-New Zealand (KANZ) Broadband SummitSchool of Computer and Information Sciencecybercrime

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