The pandemic has provided fertile ground for an uptick in cybercrime, with scammers targeting Australians with dodgy texts and robocalls.
- Labor say legitimate messages and calls are potentially “priming” consumers for scams
- It has promised tougher penalties for scammers if it is elected
- Australia’s top foreign cyber-intelligence agency is targeting message scams
The trouble is, it can often be hard to tell the difference between a scammer and a legit message or call from an organisation you trust.
The opposition is putting scam prevention on the table as part of their pitch to voters, with Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation Stephen Jones urging the private sector to do more to fight cybercrime.
Labor is calling on telcos, banks and retailers to change how they communicate with their customers so that legitimate communications aren’t confusing consumers who then receive similar looking or sounding messages from scammers.
In letters to the peak bodies representing those sectors, including the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Banking Association, Mr Jones said he wanted companies to further minimise risk to their customers.
“Consumers across Australia regularly receive text messages from large companies that ask them to click on an internal link,” he said.
“They also receive unsolicited calls from legitimate companies that ask them to reveal personal identity details.”
“These messages and calls act as a “primer” for Australian consumers — training them to click on links in text messages and provide personal details over the phone to strangers.”
The opposition’s push for more action from the private sector comes after its announcement earlier in the month that a Labor government will establish an anti-scam centre and new industry codes in a bid to tackle what it calls a “scamdemic”.
The proposed suite of measures also includes more funding for identification recovery services, a review of penalties for perpetrators and making platforms that profit from the sale of online advertising responsible for the prompt removal of scam ads.
“A game of whack-a-mole”
These types of phone scams are also on the radar of Australia’s top foreign cyber-intelligence agency, The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD.)
In a speech to be delivered today at the National Press Club, ASD Director-General Rachel Noble will outline the threat posed to Australians by cybercrime and the Directorate’s attempts to stop it.
“Using our intelligence insights and unique accesses, ASD observed criminals preying on anxious Australians by sending them fake SMSes enticing them to click on links purporting to be offering access to COVID support payments.”
In at least one instance, the ASD has been involved in infiltrating a syndicate involved in such activities and taking it down.
“We worked with Australian telcos to block one malicious IP address at a time … that approach became a game of whack-a-mole that we couldn’t win.
“The scam was being coordinated by a gang of organised criminals.”
“We used our covert online operations and computer network attack capabilities to infiltrate the syndicate and tear it down from the inside.”
“To this day, that syndicate has not been able to restart their vile business and we’ll be there if they try.”
Last year, the federal government committed $1.35 billion in existing defence funding over the next 10 years to boost the cybersecurity capabilities of the ASD and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).
That announcement followed warnings from the government that Australia was coming under a growing number of attacks from a “state-based” hacker.
“The federal government’s top priority is protecting our nation’s economy, national security and sovereignty. Malicious cyber activity undermines that,” the Prime Minister said at the time.
“My government’s record investment in our nation’s cybersecurity will help ensure we have the tools and capabilities we need to fight back and keep Australians safe.”