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More on the ‘NBN hack’ that wasn’t

The Au Fed Police press conference, response from Platform Networks

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More details have emerged on the “NBN hacker” story, in which a 25-year-old truck driver using the handle “Evil” penetrated a company called Platform Networks.

The association with the National Broadband Network was both tenuous and irresistible. Even though Platform isn’t yet offering services, and although the attack took place last year, its status as an NBN service provider put that link in the lead of every story.

Since we published the story earlier today (Wednesday, July 27), Platform Networks has got in touch with further information. CEO David Hooton told The Register: “In December 2010 during routine systems and network monitoring, Platform Networks became aware of unlawful traffic transiting our network. We commenced a six-month investigation, collecting information and actively monitoring traffic which led us to believe that there was malicious traffic transiting our network which was of a nature that threatened national infrastructure.

“As soon as this became obvious, Platform Networks immediately started working with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) High Tech Crimes Commission, providing them with a rare insight into this unlawful activity as it was happening.”

In a press conference broadcast on ABC News 24, the AFP’s Brad Martin associated the “national infrastructure” implications of the attack as being related to Platform’s domain and Web services, saying: “Web hosting or domain registrars … may have 150,000 or 200,000 downstream companies”.

The potential for that many companies – or even individuals – to lose access to Internet services is what elevates such services to “national infrastructure” status, he explained, not the association between Platform Networks and the NBN.

In fact, he said, this attack “would not have had a direct impact on the NBN”.

Martin backed up Platform’s account of its response to the attack, saying that when it became aware of the intrusion, it created offline, off-site backups of all systems to minimize the impact of any attack.

The AFP’s Grant Edwards said the accused first came to the agency’s notice not through the attack on Platform Networks, but after the Website of Sydney University was defaced in January. This, along with a tip-off to the National Security Hotline, led the AFP to monitor the individual now arrested.

“In May and June, we identified a number of companies hacked by this individual,” he told the press conference.

One of the 49 charges the man faces, unauthorised modification of data, carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, while the remaining 48 are for unauthorised access to data, which is punishable by two years in prison.

Even though the NBN angle is somewhat less than it seemed, the opposition’s communications spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull has told ABC News: “This is a very serious wakeup call for the National Broadband Network and the government. There is a risk of security breaches being able to pervade the whole network.” ®

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