Nearly 100 companies hit in phone hacking spree

Telephone hacking is on the rise in Australia with more than 70 organizations hit in recent attacks that have topped the multimillion dollar mark.

The victims, many the targets of international crime syndicates, have suffered losses between $200,000 and $1 million, according to Telecom Security which undertakes telephone system security audits.

The company's managing director, David Stevens, who is also the CIO at Gadens Lawyers, said telephone hacking is emerging as a serious problem in Australia, but it receives little attention.

Stevens said even Telstra has gone on the record, stating that 16 to 20 of their client's telephone systems are hacked each month.

He cited one example of a company he audited recently that had received a $192,000 phone bill, although its usual monthly bill is around $1000.

"These losses are the direct cost of calls made by hackers using the victim's phone systems," Stevens said, adding that a broad range of industry sectors have been hit recently including finance, transport and government.

"There was one case in March this year, where a Canberra hospital's phone system was hacked into, and $5000 in calls run up, but the largest case was for $1 million."

Stevens said that only last week a large, local organization, which is a household name, was hit and suffered serious losses.

"But it's like all hack attacks, victims don't like to report incidents to the authorities for fear their competitors will find out," he said.

A more sinister problem, he said, are the small attacks worth a few hundred dollars, because they go unnoticed.

"Voicemail systems are also hijacked and used for illegal activities because most organizations don't even use the most basic security methods when it comes to their telephone systems," Stevens said.

"With VoIP gaining momentum the problem is likely to get worse; just recently one carrier lost $100,000 a day when its VoIP system was hacked."

However, IDC Australia senior analyst telecommunications, Susana Vidal said VoIP technology isn't likely to escalate the problem.

"I agree phone hacking is a problem, but changing to VoIP won't make it any worse," she said.

"Security does have to be addressed with this technology but I think the IP threats are over hyped.

"If security is addressed in the beginning of a VoIP implementation, then threats can be avoided."

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