Friday, April 26, 2013


Hackers target Bureau of Statistics data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that hackers have recently attempted to break through its security systems to get hold of potentially market sensitive information.

While the ABS says none of the attempted attacks were successful, there are growing concerns that intelligence about Australia's economy is being eyed by either governments or individuals abroad.

News of the hacking attempts comes from a Freedom of Information request by the Australian Financial Review and, according to that, the ABS has been targeted by hackers over the past four years, including at least 11 incidents over seven months in 2012.

It is believed the hackers would have been looking for top secret information about the direction of Australia's economy, market sensitive information that is released at exactly 11:30am (AEST) every time there is a release, so that no one gets an edge.

This would include official data on employment, inflation, gross domestic product, retail sales, building approvals and more.

These official statistics have the potential to push the Australian dollar higher, or lower, so any security breach would put the person or persons holding the information in the position of making a very big bet while knowing the outcome and potentially making millions of dollars profit.

The ABS says it takes the security of its data seriously but that, to date, there have been no successful attacks.

"The ABS has never had a successful cyber intrusion into its corporate network. Consequently data has never been stolen," the ABS noted in a statement.

'Daily intrusions'

Perhaps more disturbing, the ABS says it is subject to "numerous attempted cyber intrusions daily".

However, the ABS says it cannot determine with certainty the purpose of the attacks.

"Because the attempted attacks were stopped before any ultimate intent could be determined, the ABS cannot report on reason behind the attacks," the ABS added.

As a matter of course, all attempted cyber intrusions are passed on to the Cyber Security Operations Centre at the Defence Signals Directorate.

The ABS says its security plan is also reviewed every year.

One of the activities is known as a "logical and physical penetration test", and all this is keeping about one, two or maybe three steps ahead of the hackers.
In addition to the ABS, the Reserve Bank confirmed earlier this year it was hit with a cyber attack in late 2011. 

That was thwarted but, if successful, potentially sensitive information could have been exposed. 

That attack sparked a security crackdown at the RBA after what's known as a "malicious payload" almost got through targeting RBA staff.

While the RBA was not compromised on that occasion, there are concerns that foreign governments or individuals using special software pose a major threat to government institutions, and that includes central banks.

'High stakes game'

Tony Kirkham of the network security company Palo Alto says the recent attacks on the ABS should be no surprise in today's world where cyber crime is getting worse.

"Something like that would be a prime target because they hold very valuable information which could be used by a range of people or organisations for a range of potentially profitable activates," he observed.

"Certainly there could be number of foreign governments who would find this information very valuable and be able to use it for potentially profitable motives."
Mr Kirkham says the value of the information means that hackers will go to great lengths to try and access it, making it harder to protect networks from attack.

"It is getting more difficult these days because this is high-stakes government game. The information they hold in a lot of cases is very valuable," he said.

"The information systems are getting a lot more complicated, so they're a lot more difficult to secure just by the nature of the complexity and we've seen a lot of these attacks are getting very targeted and being very customised just towards a specific organisation.

"So it is becoming a more difficult job but, with that said, there is still a lot that can be done."

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Respect for the truth is almost the basis of all morality.
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