TOO PHONY

Geelong Advertiser - - YOUR SAY - Peter JUDD

A DRA­MATIC rise in phone scams ( GA, Jan 13) scar­ing the wits out of Gee­long res­i­dents is part of a to­tally pre­dictable na­tional cy­ber at­tack.

Po­lit­i­cal huff­ing and puff­ing out of Can­berra about cy­ber se­cu­rity has done noth­ing to stem the tide of elab­o­rate cons against in­di­vid­u­als.

The $101 mil­lion ripped out of Aus­tralian per­sonal sav­ings in 11 months last year (De­cem­ber tally is not in yet) is well up on 2017.

The scams are ramp­ing up at the same time as new Joint Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Cen­tres have opened in cap­i­tal cities as part of a $47 mil­lion pro­gram to stiffen our de­fences.

The new Aus­tralian Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Cen­tre in Can­berra also launched a pub­lic fac­ing web­site and alerts ser­vice that com­ple­ment the Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion’s Scamwatch that has been pub­lish­ing alerts and sta­tis­tics since 2015, du­ti­fully record­ing the rapid rise of in­ter­net fraud (in­clud­ing when I got dud­ded out of $500).

Last Jan­uary, Scamwatch recorded 318 threats to life, ar­rest and “other” for a to­tal haul of $118,000.

The “pay now or get ar­rested” scam didn’t even make it into the top 10.

By Novem­ber, the ar­rest scam was the big­gest in the coun­try, Scamwatch record­ing 6684 re­ports in the month, (re­mem­ber it was 318 in Jan­uary), cost­ing vic­tims more than $500,000.

Sur­pris­ingly, young peo­ple were hard­est hit fi­nan­cially, with vic­tims aged 18 and 24 hand­ing over more than $266,000.

I see my tax money be­ing spent on cy­ber crime pre­ven­tion and I’m sure a lot is be­ing done to pro­tect our power grids, our bank­ing sys­tems, our gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and busi­ness sec­tors.

What I don’t see is any lull in the at­tacks on in­di­vid­u­als.

I un­der­stand the scams are in­ter­na­tional and so it’s very dif­fi­cult for fed­eral po­lice and other en­force­ment agen­cies to find and pros­e­cute the crooks.

But cy­ber po­lice and pub­lic in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns won’t do much to stem the tide, as much as we need both (it’s much like the war against drugs, which is also in­ter­na­tional).

What’s needed, I think, are more se­cure and trusted ways to com­mu­ni­cate.

And that in­cludes the phone sys­tem, which has be­come more pri­vate and less trusted since it was in­vented in the late 1800s. Let me ex­plain. Clunky phone sys­tems cer­tainly were less se­cure back then, sim­ply be­cause switch­board op­er­a­tors man­u­ally con­nected the calls and lis­tened in to ev­ery­thing, even chim­ing into the con­ver­sa­tion.

I doubt any­one would threaten to ar­rest or kill you with an op­er­a­tor like that rid­ing shot­gun, real phone lines lit­er­ally in the palms of their hands.

And you cer­tainly couldn’t op­er­ate an in­ter­na­tional scam at scale through a man­ual switch­board, that’s for sure.

Au­to­ma­tion and the creep­ing anonymis­ing of phone num­bers and their own­ers has cre­ated a play­ground for crooks who op­er­ate al­most in plain sight, yet re­main in­vis­i­ble.

This is the achilles heel of our ob­ses­sion with ab­so­lute pri­vacy and se­cu­rity.

In the wrong hands, a gold stan­dard se­cure chan­nel is a li­cence for wrong­do­ing that no one can see or trace.

I’m not ar­gu­ing for a re­turn to switch­boards or crack­ing open phones.

There is an­other way to sep­a­rate our trusted part­ners — the real power com­pa­nies, banks and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments — from the im­pos­tors, without com­pro­mis­ing pri­vacy.

I don’t think it’s hard to do, not as hard as some would have you think.

I’m talk­ing about the phone book.

Just build it right into my phone, se­cure the num­bers of trusted brands and their part­ners with a big, fat green tick, just like we do with do­main names on the in­ter­net.

I want to see that green tick when the tax­man at­tempts to call me.

I want to see that green tick when the bank wants to talk to me about my bal­ance.

I want that green tick for any other busi­ness that deals with me reg­u­larly. And I prom­ise I will only pick up the phone for trusted phone num­bers that glow green in the night.

The rest can go to hell. Peter Judd is news­room op­er­a­tions manger for News Corp and a for­mer ed­i­tor of the Gee­long Ad­ver­tiser.

CALLER ID: We need proof the per­son on the other end of the phone is who they say they are.

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