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Cyber Crime – superhighway robbery!

Computer technology has changed the way we live our lives.

Computer systems drive business and personal communication. Unfortunately they also provide new opportunities for criminals.

Our reliance on information technology presents new forms of security problems relating to the integrity of computer networks and the data they transmit.

If you store and use valuable computer data in your business, it is important that you know how the law can protect you.

Computer crimes

Most computer crimes are like a modern-day version of other property offences, such as trespass, breaking and entering, stealing and vandalism. The only difference is that the damage is done to information – either computer networks themselves or the data contained within them. It’s like superhighway robbery!

Hackers can create shortcuts to infiltrate computer programs and access data illegally. This may be done to steal commercial information, gain access to confidential data, or cause damage to computer infrastructure. Hacking can cause huge commercial losses to individuals and companies – it can lead to fraudulent transactions, it can destroy valuable information, and it can bring business to a standstill.

Viruses are computer programs designed to cause damage to computer networks. The malicious code contained in a computer virus is often distributed unwittingly by email – some viruses are designed to send themselves to everyone in the email address book of the poor soul who becomes infected with the virus.

Sometime it seems like hackers are always one step ahead of the technology. But there are ways to protect yourself.

Security Measures

There are many technological advances to address the security needs of the modern computer user. These include encryption, passwords and other forms of secure transaction systems.

But there are also legal measures in place to guard against illegal activities on computer networks – there are offences under both State and Federal law to guard against people maliciously accessing, interfering with and using data stored on computer networks.

New Offences

Victoria (and some other states) have created new offences aimed at computer crimes.

Like property offences, such as breaking and entering, computer offences involve making any unauthorised incursion into a computer system. Even if the criminal doesn’t steal any information or cause any damage, they can still be charged for breaching your security measures (just like a criminal who trespasses on your land but doesn’t steal anything).

In Victoria, the Crimes (Property Damage and Computer Offences) Act recently introduced new computer crimes into the Crimes Act (which governs the criminal law in this State).

The new offences include:

  • Causing an unauthorised computer function (such as attempting to obtain property by deception);
  • Causing unauthorised modification of computer data (such as changing data on a computer system or circulating a computer virus);
  • Causing unauthorised impairment of electronic communications to or from a computer (such as bombarding a web site with so many emails that the server crashes);
  • Possessing or controlling data with the intention of committing a serious computer offence (or helping another person to commit a serious computer offence); and
  • Producing or supplying data intended to be used in the commission of a serious offence (such as a virus program).

There are also offences relating to attacks on data stored separately from a computer system – such as on a disk, credit card or other electronic device.

Most of the offences require a criminal intent on the part of the person interfering with your computer system – accidentally breaching computer security measures is not generally an offence. To be found guilty, the prosecution will have to prove the hacker knew their activities were unauthorised and that they intended to access or damage computer systems.

Telecommunications crimes

The Federal Government has passed a number of laws governing telecommunications networks, including computer networks. These are found in recent amendments to the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

Some recent offences provide protection to internet service providers and people using these services. For example, it is a serious offence to interfere with a telecommunications service or to intercept messages and cause the wrongful delivery of communications.

It is also illegal to do anything that dishonestly causes a loss to a carriage service provider, such as maliciously interfering with communications.

Obligations for service providers

These new offences also create obligations for internet service providers and content hosts, to minimise the risk of criminals using these services for illegal purposes.

Federal police recently mounted a high profile crackdown on child pornography and child abuse rings that thrive on the anonymity of the internet. These crimes are treated very seriously under the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

Internet service providers are obliged to report any suspicious activities to the Federal Police – if they turn a blind eye, they are liable for prosecution themselves.

If you are involved in running an internet service or hosting a carriage service, it is important you get legal advice about your requirements under Federal law. If not, you may be inadvertently facilitating criminal behaviour with the service your business provides.

Know your rights

Computer crimes pose a serious threat to modern businesses. It is important that you are aware of the protection offered by the law.

We can advise you on the best way to protect your business and personal transactions from malicious attacks by hackers and other technological criminals. If you are a computer programmer or internet service provider, we can also help you ensure you comply with these new laws.

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