Ministers confirm DistributeIT hacking link


The nation’s federal Attorney-General and Justice Minister late yesterday confirmed the suspect arrested this week in connection with telco hacking charges was also suspected of being the same hacker which destroyed DistributeIT’s web hosting infrastructure in mid-June.

Yesterday, the AFP revealed it had arrested a 25-year-old Cowra man on 49 hacking charges, after a six month investigation into his online activities, including an attack on the systems of Platform Networks, a wholesale internet service provider based in Sydney. The AFP noted that hundreds of other Australian and international services might have been compromised, and that further charges would be likely to follow.

However, the AFP stopped short of confirming a statement by web hosting company DistributeIT, which had much of its infrastructure destroyed last month, that the hacker was the same one it had been chasing regarding its own attack.

Last night, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor made the link official.

“The Australian Federal Police yesterday arrested a 25-year-old man from Cowra in connection with attempts to hack into the security systems of a number of Australian IT company networks,” the pair said in a statement. “The AFP will today allege in court that the man infiltrated the companies’ security systems causing significant financial and reputational damage. The affected companies include Distribute IT, Sydney University, Better Off Networks and Platform Networks.”

While Platform Networks today said the attack on its own network “wasn’t major”, the attack on DistributeIT rendered the data of thousands of the company’s customers unrecoverable and resulted in the fire sale of its business to fellow hosting company Netregistry.

O’Connor said the attack had affected “about 150,000” of the company’s customers, with up to $5 million in damages being sustained.

When the DistributeIT attack occurred, the AFP had already been investigating the Cowra man for a number of months, as part of a six month investigation which kicked off with the hacking of the Sydney University web site in January this year.

The AFP was yesterday asked to comment on whether it believed the timeliness of its arrest was appropriate, given it occurred after the DistributeIT attack.

“This operation commenced with the compromise of the Sydney University website in January, 2011,” the spokesperson responded. “In the investigation’s early stages, this compromise was the AFP’s central focus. While progressing the investigation, the AFP became aware of a number of other compromises, including the Distribute IT intrusion, after they had taken place. As the AFP continues to investigate these compromises it would not be appropriate to make further comment at this time.”

Today, the two ministers thanked the AFP for t heir work, and warned “malicious computer hacking” wouldn’t be tolerated in Australia, and that businesses could actually prevent much of it through simple strategies such as employee education, monitoring network traffic and so on.

The Australian has reported that further arrests could occur as a result of the string of hack attacks.

Image credit: Office of the Attorney-General


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