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Cybercrime the new police battleground

FOR those outside the IT industry, the term ‘cybercrime’ seems the stuff of Hollywood movies and media scandals. Thoughts of computer hackers defeating evil multinationals by simply infiltrating their networks have never been so entertaining.

But for Northern Territory Police Commander Barbara Etter, the reality is a little less glamorous. In Perth this week to address a free seminar at the University of WA, Ms Etter is out to find a balance between the media hype surrounding the issue and the real threat of electronic crime.

In her role as chairperson of a recent Police Commissioners conference into cybercrime, Ms Etter said that, although crime-fighting authorities now were specifically targeting the issue, it remained difficult to know the extent of the problem in Australia.

“There is a lot of hype about it because there aren’t accurate statistics. There’s not a lot of information or intelligence about the nature of the problem, so I want to show some of the real threats of cybercrime,” she said.

“So much of it is undetected and so much of it is unreported. We only have a tiny slice of the pie; we’re relying on surveys from big business primarily and organisations like AusCERT to report computer security incidents. So it’s very restrictive, our understanding of the nature of the problem.”

Australian Computer Emergency Response Team figures for 2000 show computer-related crimes were four times higher than 1999.

Last year, a total of 8197 incidents was reported.

Ms Etter believed there was a culture in the business world not to report computer network breaches, however firms increasingly were recognising the importance of reporting to the authorities so future incidents could be prevented.

“I think there is going to be mutual benefit. We have to show there’s benefit in letting the authorities know,” she said.

“ We’re not saying tell us about it and it’ll be on the front pages of the newspaper tomorrow and your share price is about to plummet. We can’t have that.

“We need to be very careful about confidentiality and sensitivity of information.

“But at least we can get an early warning out to other companies so they can plug the gaps and they won’t be victimised as well.”

It is estimated that an Internet crime occurs once every 20 seconds somewhere in the world. These offences can range from credit card fraud committed online to viruses such as the ‘I Love You’ email, which was sent to 45 million users last year.

While the majority of offences go undetected, the WA Police Services Computer Crime Investigations division, established in 1997 to combat hacking and computer crime in WA, has made some headway.

The division had its first major success in 1997 when two WA members of the Wonderland paedophile club were arrested following an international sting. More recently, eight people were charged in 1999 following an extensive investigation into the defrauding of Telstra’s BigPond email service.

According to Detective Sergeant Ted Wisniewski, cybercrime is divided into two groups.

“Apart from matters of hacking, or as we call it unlawful operation of computer systems, all other offences are your traditional type of offences committed in a new way,” he said.

“With fraud, for example, you still have credit card fraud but, rather than being conducted over the phone or in person, it is now conducted via the Internet.”

Detective Sergeant Wisniewski said crimes against individuals, such as stalking, now were being committed via technology such as email and chatrooms.

“Because they are the same crimes committed in new ways, the only difference in investigating them is trying to locate sources of evidence,” he said.

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