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July 31, 2017

Australian Compliance Employee Posts Hacking Directions

We in the United States have been hearing a lot about leaks lately. But it appears as if things down under are getting a little leaky as well lately.

According to a recent posting by ABC Australia, an employee of the Australian Tax Office compliance agency recently published details about how to hack mobile phones in a posting on LinkedIn.

The posting provided step-to-step directions on how to bypass passwords and obtain data even on phones with dead batteries or no SIM cards, the report said. Using this blueprint, reports indicate, bad actors could access phone call records and text messages, and retrieve deleted data.

Publishing these details is a problem because it can encourage hacks and because, ABC said, it reveals the ATO’s fraud investigation tactics. In fact, as The Guardian reported, the online guide “suggests the ATO is hacking phones as part of its fraud investigations, although the agency requires a warrant or permission from the owner to do so.”

ABC was the first media outlet to recognize and report on the posting of these guidelines. When ABC contacted the Australian Tax Office about the matter, it said, the ATO was unaware of the online guide.

But ABC reported that the online guide was taken offline within an hour of the media outlet contacting the ATO. The ATO employee was not fired or suspended for posting the guide, ABC added.

The Guardian reported comments from Michael Keenan, justice minister, saying: “Obviously we are very concerned about that. But we do have very robust systems within the ATO to detect that.”

Keenan added that “the ATO, like other compliance agences in Australia, do need to keep up with the way technology evolves and they do need to exploit technology like other agencies do.”

The Guardian also noted that this is just the latest public relations blunder the ATO has faced recently. Deputy commissioner Michael Cranston also recently resigned from the ATO over an alleged tax evasion scheme involving his son.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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