by Gayle Cue, NSW, Australia
We are now fully immersed in the World Wide Web. The Internet allows us to stay in touch with friends and family, for free, with technology such as Skype and Facebook. We can save hours and hours by doing things online, from banking and making purchases, to distance learning. I can manage my ageing mother’s affairs from the other side of the world.
At the moment, it is a lawless frontier. Anyone can start a blog without the need to show any identification; they remain anonymous by using a pseudonym. The same applies to Facebook pages. There is an emergence of “bullies and bad guys” in the ‘www neighbourhood’. Many of you will have seen the disturbing expose on Insight, where you hear, first hand, from a troll about how they get their jollies tormenting other human beings. Spoofing is now a common online scam. Remember in the early days, you could spot a spam message when it turned up in your Inbox because it came from some obvious spam address. With the advent of spoofing, you now receive spam from well known website addresses … but when you open it up, it’s selling Viagra: it’s a hijacking of an established domain name to sell snake oil. How is this possible, and why can’t it be stopped?
In recent weeks, my website has been “hacked.” Besides costing me time and money, this has seriously undermined my trust and confidence in the World Wide Web. So with the help of my IT guy, we increased the security on my site. We did this in a number of ways, such as installing a different security software and eliminating the “comment” feature. As an additional measure, a PERSON has to complete a math equation in order to gain access to my control panel, or to email me from the Contact Page.
So after I made my site more secure I decided I would also take whatever legal options were available to me. I knew it may not actually result in locating the culprit nor result in retribution, but I figured at least I would feel better knowing I had made the cyber-crime known.
My first port of call was the Australian Federal Police. Of course, I looked them up on the web. While I could see a fair bit about the internet and spam, in particular, I couldn’t really find a form to file a complaint about having my website hacked. I had a polite and vaguely interested person on the other end of the subsequent phone call – (bear in mind, I had already predetermined that they would not be interested). I was advised that while it was unlikely that the AFP would take any action, I was welcome to file the complaint and told how to do so, which I did immediately. Much to my surprise, within a couple of hours I had received an email acknowledging my complaint and providing me with a couple of links that I may also find useful.
One of those links was to the Australian Communications and Media Authority www.spam.acma.gov.au. I followed up the next day by filing a complaint with them. I now see how jaded I had become because even after the prompt, courteous and helpful response from the AFP, I expected that my complaint to ACMA would go into an Inbox that occasionally got checked, only if someone was bored. How wrong I was. Within 48 hours an ACMA technician called me to say he had looked at my complaint and website; he had some suggestions of how I could improve my security. He would send me an email. A few minutes later the email arrived – with links that will be meaningless to us mere lay people, but good for an IT technician to know about. I forwarded it to my IT guy.
It seems my site was being used by an IP address that is located in Russia. This apparently doesn’t mean much as hackers can use remote addresses to hide the origin of the sender. It’s like using a pseudonym to open an account … they become untraceable.
I’m heartened to know that my spam report to ACMA was received and READ and REPLIED to. I love the World Wide Web and use it everyday, sometimes all day, between work and personal interests and correspondence. Anonymous blogs, trolls, spam and spoofing leaves me feeling like it is a ‘wild west’ of the 21st century. However, with people actually on the job, such as Sue at the AFP and David at ACMA, it gives me hope that we can get the lawless frontier tamed yet.