Date September 7, 2012
Rachel Olding
Crime Reporter

MOBILE phones and social networking sites have become the new frontier for cyber criminals who are stealing passwords and personal information by taking advantage of people’s cluelessness.

Australians are very good at protecting themselves from email fraud and spam but that is ”so five to seven years ago”, said a cyber security expert who warns that criminals have shifted their gaze to mobile and social networking fraud.

About 5.4 million people were victims of cyber crime in Australia in the past year, costing the country $1.65 billion in direct financial loss, says the cyber crime report for the internet security company Norton, released yesterday.

While 93 per cent of the 13,000 global survey respondents said they delete unsolicited emails and 89 per cent said they do not open suspicious attachments from people they do not know, the majority had no idea about new threats, Norton’s vice-president of Asia-Pacific operations, David Freer, said.

”The good news is that people are more aware of email threats but that’s five to seven years ago,” he said. ”The bad news is that’s the old way of being attacked.”

He said cyber criminals have ”moved to where the people are” and are increasingly targeting mobile phone and social networking sites where users are less aware of the risks.

One in five Australian mobile users has received a text message from someone they don’t know requesting that they click on a link or dial an unknown number to retrieve a ”voicemail” and one third of social network users have been targeted by a cyber criminal.

Yet 51 per cent of social network users and 81 per cent of mobile phone users had no security settings. And most people had no idea what a virus or cyber attack would look like.

”Malware and viruses used to wreak obvious havoc on your computer,” a safety advocate for Norton, Marian Merritt, said.  ”You’d get a blue screen, or your computer would crash, alerting you to an infection. But cyber criminals’ methods have evolved. They want to avoid detection as long as possible … Nearly half of internet users believe that unless their computer crashes or malfunctions, they’re not 100 per cent sure they’ve fallen victim to such an attack.”

Common forms of new cyber crime are people hacking into social networking profiles, infecting a computer with a virus sent through a dodgy link shared on a social networking profile, or sending a text message to a mobile phone with a dangerous link or voicemail message.

The most valuable piece of information for a cyber criminal was the password, Mr Freer said, as well as personal information that can be used to commit identity fraud.

The assistant commissioner of NSW Fair Trading, Rob Vellar, said instances of fraud increase when the economy worsens. In the past two years, fraud in NSW has risen by 5 per cent.

The average cyber crime victim lost $200, costing the population more than $1.65 billion in the past year.

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