– Australian companies are being held to ransom by eastern European crime gangs that hijack their victims’ computers and demand thousands of dollars to enable them to be used again.

High-profile bookmaker Tom Waterhouse is believed to have been targeted by hijackers who forced his website offline for up to two hours on the day of the Cox Plate, one of the biggest betting events of the year.

Whether tomwaterhouse.com paid the ransom that was sought is unclear, but police say many victims have paid, believing it is the only way to regain control of their systems.

In another type of cyber sting, gangs are targeting individuals as well as businesses, often locking up computes by encrypting data. Police fear there may be already tens of thousands of Australian victims.

Fraud Squad police have told Fairfax Media that many companies have handed over the amounts asked for, usually between $1000 and $5000, rather than lose days or weeks of trade.

Northern Territory business TDC Refrigeration and Electrical paid a ransom of $3000. Its data was accessed and encrypted by hackers who demanded money to decrypt.

One of the companies that refused to pay a ransom was Miami Family Medical Centre on the Gold Coast. It had thousands of medical records hijacked by hackers who demanded payment of $4000 for files to be decrypted in December. It had to use a year-old back-up to recover files.

Detective Inspector Bruce van der Graaf of the Computer Crime Investigation Unit of the New South Wales Fraud Squad said he would not be surprised if victims of the scam numbered in the tens of thousands. There was no way of knowing because many people did not report their instances to police.

Another common rort is for victims to be told that police have discovered crimes ranging from copyright infringement to viewing child-abuse material. People are generally asked to pay a fine of about $100.

Scamwatch, run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said it received 190 complaints about the police scam in October and November.

Detective Inspector van der Graaf said Russian and eastern European syndicates were the best when it came to online fraud scams.

The encryption scam was deployed en masse in two ways, Detective Inspector van der Graaf said. One is a virus that arrives by email, infecting the systems. The other is brute-forcing  the remote desktop protocol.

The latter, he explained, lets hackers gain control of a computer remotely, by force, in the same way a help desk operator might access a computer with a user’s permission.

Detective Superintendent Brian Hay said hackers found their victims by scanning the internet for open remote access ports.

Victims were often asked to pay through Western Union, Liberty Reserve and Ukash, an anonymous cash-for-vouchers system, generating hard-to-track transactions.

Detective Inspector van der Graaf said: “We haven’t had a successful prosecution yet but we haven’t given up, there’s lots of work being done in this area.” – Lisa Davies & Ben Grubb


About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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