Tag: security

New Privacy Enforcement Act commences in Australia
New concerns over China’s ability to access user data on WeChat
The AFP and FBI developed ANoM app secretly distributed among criminals used to make over 800 criminal arrests worldwide
$300 million of the Victorian Budget set aside to improve cyber security
“The best of its kind anywhere in the world today”: COVIDSafe among the safest tracing apps globally, study finds
“This is a public health app, it’s not a surveillance app”: Review finds “nothing particularly disturbing” about the Federal Government’s coronavirus tracing app
Watching Me, Watching You: Chinese Surveillance Cameras Banned in South Australia amidst Security Concerns
Trending: Security as a service
Who have you been giving your name and number to? A cautionary tale
China in breach of cyber-security pact

New Privacy Enforcement Act commences in Australia

By Cameron Abbott, Rob Pulham and Stephanie Mayhew

As of yesterday, the Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Act 2022 (Privacy Enforcement Act) is now in effect after receiving Royal Assent on 12 December 2022.

As we have previously shared, the Privacy Enforcement Act increases the maximum penalties for serious or repeated privacy breaches. For body corporates/organisations this increases the penalty from the current $2.22 million to whichever is the greater of:

  • $50 million;
  • if the court can determine the value of the benefit that the body corporate, and any related body corporate, have obtained directly or indirectly and that is reasonably attributable to the conduct constituting the contravention—3 times the value of that benefit;
  • if the court cannot determine the value of that benefit—30% of the adjusted turnover of the body corporate during the breach turnover period for the contravention.

The Act also provides the Australian Information Commissioner with greater enforcement powers to enable privacy breaches to be resolved more quickly and efficiently through more effective information-sharing powers.

While the Privacy Act review has been ongoing since 2020 with an increase to the maximum penalties long-expected, the Privacy Enforcement Act was a quick response to recent major data breaches. Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus stated that “significant privacy breaches in recent months have shown existing safeguards are outdated and inadequate. These reforms make clear to companies that the penalty for a major data breach can no longer be regarded as the cost of doing business”.

This is just the first step in what is likely to be significant amendments to the Privacy Act that will follow from the Attorney General’s Department’s ongoing review.

We expect that the regulator will start to take a far firmer approach to companies failing to secure their customer’s personal information and now carries a big stick to use in that process.

New concerns over China’s ability to access user data on WeChat

By Cameron Abbott and Hugo Chow

A recent report by cybersecurity firm, Internet 2.0, has raised concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to access the data of millions of users around the world of social media and payment application, WeChat.

WeChat is significant as it is the application that nearly all citizens in China use on a daily basis for communication, payments for services and as a way for citizens to connect through social media. Although the majority of WeChat’s more than 1 billion users are located in China, there are approximately 600,000 users in Australia, 1.3 million users in the UK, and 1.5 million users in the United States.

One of the concerns the report outlines is that although WeChat states that its servers are kept outside mainland China, all user data that WeChat logs and posts to its logging server goes directly to Hong Kong. And the report argues that under Hong Kong’s new National Security Legislation, there is little difference between Hong Kong resident servers and servers in mainland China.

As a result, due to China’s National Intelligence Law which requires organisations and citizens to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work”, there are concerns that the WeChat logging data that goes to servers in Hong Kong may be accessed by the Chinese Government upon request. The report states that the data that goes to Hong Kong is log data, which includes the user’s mobile network, device information, GPS information, phone ID, the version of the operating system of the device, but does not include information such as content of a conversation.

Another concern the report outlines is that although there was no evidence that chats were stored outside the user’s device, the report found that WeChat had the potential to access all the data in a user’s clipboard. This means that there is the potential for WeChat to access the data that is copied and pasted by users on WeChat, which is a risk to people using password managers that rely on the clipboard feature to copy and paste their passwords.

We expect to hear more about these sorts of concerns from a range of jurisdictions.

The AFP and FBI developed ANoM app secretly distributed among criminals used to make over 800 criminal arrests worldwide

By Cameron AbbottWarwick Andersen and Jacqueline Patishman

[Editor: It has been a busy week for all Cyberwatchers, and our blog has been running hot.  This however is our favourite.]

For at least the last three years the Australian Federal Police and the United Stated Federal Bureau of Investigation have been working together to run ‘Operation Ironside’ using an app called ANoM. The app has allowed law enforcement to easily monitor criminal communications and to make over 800 criminal arrests so far.

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$300 million of the Victorian Budget set aside to improve cyber security

By Cameron Abbott and Jacqueline Patishman

The recently released Victorian budget shows that more than $300 million of the 2021-2022 state budget is to be used to improve the government’s ability to prevent, detect and control cyber risks. Well sort of… it also includes a range of more vanilla possible projects such as case administration systems at AAT, upgrading radio communication for Forest Fire Management Fire Victoria staff – so perhaps it is not as large a cybersecurity spend as it first looks.

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“The best of its kind anywhere in the world today”: COVIDSafe among the safest tracing apps globally, study finds

By Cameron Abbott, Warwick Andersen, Rob Pulham and Rebecca Gill

In some positive news about the Federal Government’s COVIDSafe app, the University of Adelaide’s cybersecurity experts have assessed the Australian contact tracing app to be one of the best and safest among 34 apps used globally to track and trace COVID-19 cases.

A team from the University’s School of Computer Science made the judgment in a study which assessed Android versions of 34 of the world’s COVID-19 contact tracing apps for security and privacy vulnerabilities.

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“This is a public health app, it’s not a surveillance app”: Review finds “nothing particularly disturbing” about the Federal Government’s coronavirus tracing app

By Cameron Abbott, Rob Pulham, Michelle Aggromito and Rebecca Gill

The Federal Government’s coronavirus tracing app has raised some privacy concerns amongst the Australian public. Even some of our government Ministers have ruled out downloading the app due to such concerns! However, the independent cyber security body tasked with reviewing the app has said that it has found no major concerns with it.

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Watching Me, Watching You: Chinese Surveillance Cameras Banned in South Australia amidst Security Concerns

By Cameron Abbott and Max Evans

Following Australia’s latest round of expanded 5G restrictions, the South Australian Government has made a decision to remove all close circuit surveillance cameras made by a Chinese surveillance giant from health department buildings, according to an article by the Sydney Morning Herald.

The article notes that the relevant cameras are made by the partially state-owned Chinese surveillance technology company Hikvision, which was blacklisted in October 2019 by the United States for their alleged role in human rights violations and in purporting to create a surveillance network amongst federal agencies. Issues with Hikvision in South Australia were first identified in the course of a Commonwealth-funded trial in which Hikvision cameras were to be used in the rooms of aged care residents as a means to improve overall safety.

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Trending: Security as a service

By Cameron Abbott and Karla Hodgson

Remember the time when you first heard about cloud computing and it took you a few moments of quiet contemplation before you wrapped your head around the concept of computing being situated “up there”?  Of course today we aren’t surprised to learn that over 80% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by next year and that a new wave of cloud-based security as a service (SECaaS) solutions are rolling in to address the forecasted USD $5.2 trillion per year in cybercrime damage that is expected to impact within the next 5 years.

Based on the software as a service (SaaS) model, SECaaS is a cloud-based managed security service that removes the need for businesses to buy and continually upgrade on-premises hardware and software and keep staff upskilled in the ever-shifting world of cybersecurity risk and protection.

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Who have you been giving your name and number to? A cautionary tale

By Cameron Abbott and Allison Wallace

Have you inadvertently given the owners of global, searchable databases of phone numbers and associated names access to your entire contact list?

We suspect that you cannot confidently answer “no”.

In yet another tale of why you should read the terms of use and service of apps and other online products you download or sign-up to use, we’ve recently been exposed to the shock of having your name appear on a complete stranger’s phone, after they’re given your number (but not your name) to call you. We asked the question of how this could happen – and found the answer to be quite alarming.

The Samsung Smart Call function, which is powered by Hiya, boasts that it allows you to “deal with spam the easy way”, by letting you know who is calling you, even if their number is not saved in your contact list. In theory, this is a handy tool, and in the context of robocalls or other unsolicited marketing calls, doesn’t create any privacy issues. But when the database which powers the function contains the names and numbers of (we suspect) millions of private citizens, this becomes quite concerning.

So, how do private numbers (and the names of their associated users) come to be listed in databases such as Hiya? Well, for one, anyone who downloads the Hiya app is given the option to share their contacts. If they do, and your number is saved to their phone, your details will become part of the database. We have no doubt that many who download and use the Hiya app didn’t realise what they were signing up for (or what they were signing up their entire contact list for) – because they didn’t read the terms of use. This also begs the question – are companies like Hiya properly satisfying their privacy obligations merely by asking users to “opt in” to share their contacts?

Hiya is of course not the only “caller ID” app on the market – a quick search of the Apple App store reveals numerous other options for download – including Truecaller, Caller-ID, Sync.ME and CallHelp. In 2018, Hiya reached 50 million active users worldwide, while Truecaller’s website says it has over 130 million daily active users. Those figures of course would barely scrape the surface of the number of names and phone numbers held in their collective databases.

In case you’re wondering how much damage could really be done by a third party having access to your name and phone number – think about all of the things your number is linked to. Your Facebook, your Gmail, maybe even your bank account and credit cards. Information is power – and this is the kind of information that could easily allow hackers to wreak a reasonable amount of havoc. So before you sign-up to a new app, take the time to read the terms of service, because your use could not only be exposing your personal information, but that of your entire contact list.

China in breach of cyber-security pact

By Cameron Abbott and Wendy Mansell

It has been a fairly turbulent week in the cyber-espionage space following accusations that China’s Ministry of Security Services is behind the surge of intellectual property theft from Australian companies.

The news that the persistent attacks on Australian IP are perhaps a State sponsored campaign by the Chinese government is concerning as it suggests that China are in breach of several international and bilateral agreements.

In 2015, an agreement was made between Chinese President Xi Jinping and former President Obama, that the U.S and China would not steal intellectual property from one another for commercial gain. This was furthered at the November 2015, G20 Summit, where the cyber-theft of IP was accepted as the norm.

Following on from this in September 2017, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Kequiang promised that neither country would engage in cyber-theft of intellectual property and commercial secrets.

Reports of cyber-theft declined immediately after these agreements, however in recent months they have ramped up again.

A U.S Trade Representative report released this week confirms that despite any international agreements, China has continued engaging in cyber-espionage and the theft of intellectual property. Further the report states that not only is China likely to be in breach of these agreements, but the attacks have “increased in frequency and sophistication”.

Notably in July of this year, China was linked to the cyber-breach of Australian National University. This attack was particularly disturbing given that ANU is a leading university involved in key areas of Australian technological, scientific, defence and commercial research.  It is fascinating that cyber attacks and theft are a “norm” that is accepted within our overall international relationships.  Physical acts of a similar nature would not be so easily accepted.

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