Legal threats for unauthorised security tests on the rise

Powered by SC Magazine
 

Courts would assess whether vulnerability disclosures were ethical.

Security researcher Patrick Webster was not the first Australian to be hit with legal threats for unauthorised but ethical disclosure, industry experts say.

As many as a dozen or more researchers have been embroiled in legal tussels for conducting unathorised vulnerability tests on businesses over the last three years, according to sources familiar with the cases.

Last week, Webster became the most recent to land in hot water after he disclosed in September a direct object reference vulnerability to Pillar, the fund administrator of First State Superannuation of which he was a customer.

The common flaw existed in a URL he was sent that linked to his superannuation statement. By altering a digit, he was able to access other customer accounts.

He ran a script to download some 500 accounts and supplied the information to the then allegedly grateful company.

But three weeks later, the company informed police that Webster may have breached the NSW Crimes Act and issued a legal threat (pdf) demanding he allow its technical staff to examine his computer.

They had also threatened to force Webster to pay for costs arising from the disclosure.

A Sydney security professional who could not be named for legal reasons said he was involved in about a dozen similar cases in the last three years.

"It unfortunately seems like the way things are going now," he said.

NSW Police refused to comment on specific investigations, and all finalised cases were wrapped in non-disclosure agreements, the source said.

He said half of the cases involved penetration testers and professional security researchers.

Many of these involved the disclosure of basic website and application vulnerabilities including similar direct object bugs found by Webster,  through which sensitive data could be accessed without hacking per se.

They were also ethically disclosed, meaning the affected company was quietly informed so the holes could be corrected with minimum risk to users.

But in each case, the affected companies hit researchers with legal threats.

While some researchers were later relieved of legal threats and even paid for the disclosures, some in NSW and Victoria were facing potential criminal prosecution.

Director of penetration testing company Securus Global, Drazen Drazic, suspected the number of researchers involved could be higher.

"Unauthorised disclosure is common, it is part of the security industry," Drazic said. "These guys have almost a sixth sense for spotting bugs. It is like a mechanic who hears a rattle in a car and knows the problem."
 
Speaking of Webster's legal tussle, arbitrator and former president of the Australian Computer Society, Phillip Argy, said courts would examine intent behind disclosure.

"There may be no question on whether laws were broken, but it is a question of what he did that the court will consider," Argy said.

First State Superannuation chief executive Michael Dwyer AM told Risky Business that the legal threat was part of the company's risk management policy,

Argy said a court would differentiate between unauthorised access for malicious and benevolent purposes.

"Assuming it can be proven."

But that uncertainty was too great a risk for independent researchers to accept, Drazic said.

Professional penetration testers often find vulnerabilities in software and web sites owned by businesses that were not customers.

If they were notified, penetration testing firms could be accused of drumming up business.

"Every scenario is different," Drazic said. "We try to find a trusted source in the company to inform."

"Unless you have business doing the tests, and I believe Patrick did, you really can't risk it."

Copyright © SC Magazine, Australia


Legal threats for unauthorised security tests on the rise
 
 
 
Top Stories
Frugality as a service: the Amazon story
Behind the scenes, Amazon Web Services is one lean machine.
 
Negotiating with the cloud email megavendors
[Blog post] Lessons from Woolworths’ mammoth migration.
 
Qld govt to move up to 149k staff onto Office 365
Australia's largest deployment, outside of the universities.
 
 
Sign up to receive iTnews email bulletins
   FOLLOW US...

Latest VideosSee all videos »

The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
Scott Noteboom, CEO of LitBit speaking at The Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit 2014 in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. http://bit.ly/1qpxVfV Scott Noteboom is a data centre engineer who led builds for Apple and Yahoo in the earliest days of the cloud, and who now eyes Asia as the next big opportunity. Read more: http://www.itnews.com.au/News/372482,how-do-we-serve-three-billion-new-internet-users.aspx#ixzz2yNLmMG5C
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
To COTS or not to COTS? iTnews asks Karl Maftoum, CIO of the ACMA, at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
AEMO chief information officer Susan Sly calls for more collaboration among Australia's technology leaders at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Credit Union Australia's David Gee awarded Finance CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards.
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Damon Rees named Retail CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Woolworths.
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Acting Foxtel CIO David Marks accepts an iTnews Benchmark Award on behalf of Robyn Elliott.
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Sanjay Mehta named Industrial CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at ConocoPhillips.
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Greg Wells named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at NSW Health.
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
William Confalonieri named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Deakin University.
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
David Johnson named Government CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at the Queensland Police Service.
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott discuss the Coalition's broadband policy with the press.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
The Australian Federal Police have arrested a Sydney-based IT security professional for hacking a government website.
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO Chrissy Burns talks data.
New UTS Building: the IT within
New UTS Building: the IT within
The IT behind tomorrow's universities.
iTnews' NBN Panel
iTnews' NBN Panel
Is your enterprise NBN-ready?
Introducing iTnews Labs
Introducing iTnews Labs
See a timelapse of the iTnews labs being unboxed, set up and switched on! iTnews will produce independent testing of the latest enterprise software to hit the market after installing a purpose-built test lab in Sydney. Watch the installation of two DL380p servers, two HP StoreVirtual 4330 storage arrays and two HP ProCurve 2920 switches.
The True Cost of BYOD
The True Cost of BYOD
iTnews' Brett Winterford gives attendees of the first 'Touch Tomorrow' event in Brisbane a brief look at his research into enterprise mobility. What are the use cases and how can they be quantified? What price should you expect to pay for securing mobile access to corporate applications? What's coming around the corner?
Ghost clouds
Ghost clouds
ACMA chair Chris Chapman says there is uncertainty over whether certain classes of cloud service providers are caught by regulations.
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Privacy experts David Vaile (UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre) and Craig Scroggie (CEO, NextDC) claim they were not surprised by the Snowden leaks about the NSA's PRISM program.
Latest Comments
Polls
Which bank is most likely to suffer an RBS-style meltdown?





   |   View results
ANZ
  21%
 
Bankwest
  9%
 
CommBank
  11%
 
National Australia Bank
  17%
 
Suncorp
  24%
 
Westpac
  19%
TOTAL VOTES: 1449

Vote