Imagine it’s 3 weeks till Christmas
You’ve got (e)mail! ( ✉ )
The email says that you are due to receive a parcel delivery from FedEx. You weren’t expecting anything, but then, it’s close to Christmas. It could be something special – who could it be from? Excitedly, you quickly fill in the required details and send the email. You and your team at your conveyancing firm have been receiving an unusually high number of emails lately. It must be that time of the year, when old contacts try to connect, and banks ask you to validate information. A couple of them have clearly been phishing emails – thank goodness they were identified.
Unbeknownst to you, you’ve missed some.
Meanwhile at the other end of these phishing emails, Elliot is slowly gathering information about you and your firm. Through his multiple phishing emails, he’s managed to obtain quite a bit of information about you, your assistant and some of your colleagues. It was relatively easy to follow you from the coffee shop’s free Wi-Fi. As the ‘man in the middle’ (MITM), he’s managed to have continuous conversations with you and your client Grace. Now he’s just waiting for you to take the bait.
Finally, success! Elliot’s managed to install malware  into your system through one of the links you clicked on. This spyware will hide in the background and watch what you’re doing online. It records your online activities and data such as your passwords, credit card details and the websites you regularly visit. All this is happening while you remain unaware that your personal data is being compromised.
By the way, did you know that Elliot isn’t really just Elliot. He is an individual in an organised group comprising of six to seven other perpetrators existing for the purpose of theft. Not wanting to put all their eggs in one basket, at any given time, the team may be running multiple online schemes targeting many organisations. They have spent weeks planning this one, fooling different people and collecting information.
In order to perform the theft of the funds from you and your client, Grace, they have also been spending time cultivating people that can execute the transfer of these stolen funds. Abigail King looks positive as a money mule victim.
A couple of days before Christmas
The group has been busy. They’ve managed to set it up – pretending to be Grace they’ve instructed you to transfer the proceeds from the sale of her house to Abigail King. Once the settlement has completed, $250,000 is moved immediately to Abigail’s bank account. Soon after, she will transfer the money, just under $10,000 at a time, to the group’s overseas account; until she gets caught that is.
Back at your conveyancing firm the property transaction was settled several days ago, but you’ve only just realised what’s happened. The funds have gone to the account you’ve told it to go to, but that’s not the right one! You call the bank. They say that they’ll look into it.
Uncertain what to do next, you ring PEXA and inform them that your email account was possibly compromised. PEXA contacts the bank who holds Abigail’s account, ensuring no further funds can be transferred out. However, approximately $30,000 has already been transferred to an overseas account.
The bank works with their counterparts to retrieve the money. They manage to recover close to $20,000 as the remaining $10,000 has already been physically withdrawn. Just under $240,000 is returned to Grace in total, it’s not everything.
It’s been a few days since the incident, and because it was a phishing scam you contacted your PI insurer, they should be able to cover the money that Grace lost through your cyber security policy. As a precaution, you arrange a full review of your firm’s IT security system as well as change your passwords, and suggest that Grace, do the same. You make a mental note that in the future, you will be diligent in verbally confirm bank details, only using private secure Wi-Fi networks and being wary of phishing email scams. It may also be a good idea to install a firewall to protect your systems from malware. The biggest deterrent to a cybercriminal is attempting to break through a robust cyber security system. They will generally go for an easier target because they are financially motivated to get in and out quickly.
Cybercrime in Australia
Email is the common technique used by cyber criminals and according to the Cyber Security Review, led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, cybercrime costs the Australian economy approximately AUD 1B per annum.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) states that Australia is an attractive target for serious and organised crime syndicates, and because of the lucrative financial gains, cybercrime is a serious threat. According to some experts, the majority of hackers are affiliated in one way or another to organised groups. They operate like a legitimate business with people who have a range of skills working towards a common goal.
Some organised groups receive direction and support from nation states – who exist with the purpose of stealing data, disrupting operations or destroying infrastructure. The state sponsors a coordinated attack with the intention of acquiring intellectual property or government data, many of these groups are a part of a collective ‘army’.
In this fictional story, Elliot does not belong to a nation state. He is a member of an organised group, that exist for the purpose of theft. It is highly likely that this group do not reside in Australia and like most others, live a lucrative lifestyle off the stolen proceeds. The reality of this story is that it can happen to you, and that being aware, and putting in the right cyber security controls can stop you from becoming another cybercrime statistic.
 Malware is malicious software, written with the intent of doing harm to data, devices or people.
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Recently, it was reported that a Victorian hospital fell victim to a cybercrime syndicate that held 15,000 medical files to ransom. This attack, a probable result of a phishing scam, inadvertently opened by a staff member, resulted in criminals hacking into the hospital’s server to plant ransomware that scrambled and encrypted data, locking access to files from medical staff.
Ransomware can happen in different forms. For hospitals, holding their data at ransom not only creates reputational damage but could have a serious impact on their patients. Another method of ransomware is to attack a company's IT infrastructure by disabling employee access to laptops or servers. The company is then held to ransom and the payment method is typically demanded in bitcoin or other forms of cryptocurrency. The use of cryptocurrency is prevalent in the cyber fraud community because of its ability to be transferred anonymously.
In 2017, two companies had their Amazon Web Services accounts compromised by hackers using the victims’ bandwidth and computing power to mine bitcoins, an energy intensive, but potentially lucrative exercise. 
Data ransom and bitcoin mining may seem simple and straightforward when compared to more sophisticated hacks such as one which occurred in 2017. The attack, called WannaCry, infected up to 200,000 computers, locking up users’ data in 150 countries, and demanded a ransom to release them. WannaCry was so damaging because the cyber criminals managed to exploit the vulnerabilities of older of Windows software when newer, more secure versions were available.
In Australia, conservative estimates show that cybercrime costs the economy in excess of AUD 1B each year. More than 500,000 small Australian businesses fell victim to cybercrime in 2017 and it is estimated that the majority paid an average of AUD 4,677 in ransom to unencrypt their data. Often small business fall victim as in some cases, maintaining the latest version of IT software is not their highest priority.
Source: Smart Company, From millions to malware: Cyber attacks in Australia by the numbers, July 2018
The cybercrime landscape is ever evolving, and it is therefore imperative for our industry to continually develop and advance a robust security framework. As an industry, we must uphold the highest standards when it comes to cyber security and maintaining the latest in secure software versions. This is non-negotiable when dealing with someone’s most important and emotionally significant investment – their home.
At PEXA, we are determined to ensure that the cyber security practices we have in place continue to protect our members and their customers. Our IT systems are annually audited by external professionals and we continually explore new ways to bolster the security posture of our network. This is achieved by investing, maintaining and constantly improving security controls as well as running a Security Operations Centre to monitor, detect, and respond to cyber-attacks.
What your firm can do
To ensure your practice is protected from similar events, it is important to be aware of how these criminals operate. Hackers like this look for the weakness in a security framework and will exploit vulnerabilities in older versions of software, as they did in the WannaCry ransomware attack. As a preventative measure, we recommend staying up to date with patching.
Patching reduces the risk of hackers exploiting vulnerabilities that have already been remediated by software companies. It updates, fixes, or improves the program or data and mends security vulnerabilities and other bugs.
Firewalls are another layer of protection that can act as a barrier between your computer and the Internet helping safeguard your computer and information. By having a firewall, you reduce the risk of an attacker compromising your computer. There are a number of anti-virus providers that you could employ that meet the requirements in PEXA’s Subscriber Security Policy e.g. Symantec, McAfee, TrendMicro, etc. The Policy also provides guidance on all the security controls that PEXA Subscribers should be leveraging to maximise their security posture.
You’ll notice that in the Victorian Hospital’s ransomware attack, an unwitting staff member fell victim to a phishing e-mail. Training your staff to recognise potential cyber-fraud is the first step to preventing this from happening to you.
Additionally, your business must plan early for this eventuality, however unlikely. Making this decision will assist you in avoiding ‘heat of the moment’ reactions that could have detrimental effects on your business.
Taking the necessary steps to ensure your data is backed-up will alleviate the need to and risks involved in paying a ransom. There are two main options for backing-up your organisation’s data:
perform your own back-ups to a storage device (USB or external hard drive); or
back up to an online (cloud) service.
Business’ that decide to pay a ransom need to be aware of the risks, including the likelihood that even if the ransom is paid, they may not receive their information back and leave themselves open to further attacks. We recommend you speak with your legal advisor beforehand to ensure you are making the correct decision for your firm.
There is a lot of information available to help your firm plan for this scenario. Visit staysmartonline.gov.au for more information on ransomware and PEXA’s online Community forum to learn about measures PEXA takes to bolster security.
 Bitcoin miners pool together different computers to solve complex algorithms, success of which generates a set number of valuable new bitcoins.
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It’s more than just an Internet romance...
The lover’s tale
Abigail thinks she’s in love. It must be love. She’s been looking for love for a while and Elliot seems like the perfect guy. Many of her friends have warned her about internet romances but Elliot’s different. He has never asked her for money. Never asked her for anything. She thinks he might be quite wealthy in fact. He is always moving money around. He’s been struggling lately though. So, she’s been helping him transfer money to his accounts. For some reason, he’s having issues sending money to his overseas account. Abigail doesn’t really know the reasons why, nor does she question it. It all seems too complicated, and as long as it’s not her money she’s transferring over, it must be okay… besides he’s committed to the relationship. He said they will be together soon.
Over the past couple of weeks Abigail’s been transferring money for Elliot’s family and friends. They are all preparing for a big holiday and need the money ready to meet them. It’s not much – a couple of hundred here and there. Now he’s asked for her help to transfer funds from the sale of his property in Australia.
Just a few days ago, Abigail received $250,000 to her account. She’s not meant to transfer everything over to him though. Elliot told her that while he was excited to have sold his house, he needs to move the money in parts to avoid government taxes. He’s asked her to transfer just under $10,000 at a time, over several days, because that way it doesn’t trigger any alerts. Abigail doesn’t completely understand the reasoning, but Elliot is good to her. He said they will meet face-to-face now that he has sold his house, and she is excited to finally put a face to her love.
For the third day in a row she has made the transfer. Something strange has happened though, all her accounts have now been frozen, and her bank keeps leaving messages to call them back.
The practitioner’s tale
Meanwhile your client, Grace, is frantic. She hasn’t received her house’s sale proceeds yet. It’s been a couple of days; how has this happened? You arranged the transfer of the money according to her instructions which you received just before finalising the payment. You look back at the details and see the account name Abigail King and a different BSB – not your client’s.
Wait. What’s happening?
Going back through the email trail you realise that there’s something funny about the email address. The instruction did not come from Grace. Blood drains from your face… you call the bank immediately to try and stop the funds from disappearing. Hopefully it’s not too late.
The Hacker’s tale
Meanwhile, Elliot is busy moving money around several of his accounts across the world and connecting with different people online. While he’s looking for a way to gain access to steal the funds, he has also been cultivating internet romances with men and women to transfer the funds outside of Australia. He loves living in the internet era where crimes can be performed anonymously, and no-one ever has to see his face. On the internet you can pretend to be whoever you want, and a lot of people believe you.
Unfortunately, the above scenario is all too common. Cyber criminals often use middlemen to transfer stolen money to their accounts. These middlemen are real people, with real accounts and they don’t have unusual bank account activity. Known as money mules, they are sometimes recruited or deceived into helping cyber criminals carry out these crimes. Offenders like our fictitious character Elliot.
These criminals have been known to recruit money mules via romance scams or employment scams. In a romance scam, the ‘money mule’ is emotionally invested and could also be considered a victim. Employment scams often offer potential money mules a job that requires minimal effort with lucrative returns – for instance, a small commission for receiving and transferring money.
According to the Australian Federal Police , it is a crime to transact in the movement of stolen funds, even if you are unaware that you are acting as a money mule. Money mules are caught because they are not trying to hide their activities, and when caught, they can have their entire bank accounts, including their own funds, suspended and potentially face criminal prosecution.
How can I protect myself?
Be wary of advertisements for a guaranteed income or job with lucrative returns and very little effort
Don’t transfer money on behalf of someone else, especially when you have never met them
Never give your bank details to anyone
Protect your personal information and be suspicious if anyone asks you for those details
Be cautious of people seeking financial assistance or asking you for financial details – money sent via wire transfer is rarely recoverable
As a business operator, when receiving instructions to transfer money, confirm that the instructions you’ve received have come from your client - verbally confirm details or changes with your client
Be cautious of situations where the name on the account differs from that of your customer
I think I am a victim, what can I do?
Anyone who has disclosed their bank account details, received funds into their account or suspect that they are a victim of a mule scam should contact their bank or financial institution immediately.
For more information on this and more, please refer to Scam Watch
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Just got back from an awesome vacation, and yes, my cape is always on…
To address your questions, firstly, phone cloning is about having access to the phone and duplicating the SIM card. The likelihood of this happening, although possible, is considered relatively low. Because MFA is something you know and have, you would still need to know other information besides that gained from the cloned SIM card.
Also, offering practitioners the ability to choose their own PEXA name is part of our technology roadmap.
Today, what we have is MFA at login. Our teams are actively working on additional security validations that will be rolled out in the future. For example, cyber security, as we know it today, relates to three elements: something you know, for example your password, something you have, for instance, your phone, and something you are, biometrics. Our goal is to drive towards a seamless experience, and very much like Microsoft and Google, only ask for your validation when the three elements don’t match up.
On our secure digital communication… that’s a great question. However, I’m unable to provide more details here – you’ll have to wait for the announcement and I have a feeling that you’ll be excited at what’s to come. I’m looking forward to answering your questions then!
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Shhh! Someone's listening...
An uninvited guest, Elliot, has inserted himself into your conversation. You are sitting at a coffee shop having a chat with your client Grace, and unbeknownst to you, Elliot, at the next table is virtually listening to your entire conversation. This unwanted guest eavesdrops the conversation with your client and gathers all their critical information. When you leave the table, he continues the conversation with your client pretending to be you.
I know what you’re thinking - this would not be possible face-to-face. Your client, Grace, knows what you look like, what you sound like. But what if I told you that this is not improbable at all… this is happening online today.
This seemingly far-fetched scenario is a very real cyber-attack method, aptly called man-in-the-middle (MITM). The hacker, in this instance, Elliot, effectively intercepts your conversation, places himself in the middle and conveys the information he wants to pass on to both sides.
How could this happen?
Hackers like Elliot use various methods to gain access to your computer systems. Elliot may have used a phishing scam, or capitalised on poorly secured Wi-Fi routers, often found in public areas with free hotspots. His goal is to obtain your password and access your email account. The current statistics show an increase of 80% in hacks performed through an email compromise.
Changing your password may not be enough
Once Elliot has got into your system, he can create a rule that automatically forwards your emails to a secondary account. This means that any email you receive is also sent to his email account. Using further filtering with key words, he only needs to monitor what he deems as relevant emails. So, even if you regularly change your email password, in this scenario, the hacker still has access to your emails.
How does it work?
With access to your emails, Elliot then uses the information he has obtained, and, mimicking your email style, he can begin a new conversation as you, with your client, Grace. With valuable context acquired, the hacker then impersonates Grace, responding to your emails.
Once he has obtained the information required, he then exits the conversation. You and your client, Grace, are none the wiser, until that is, you realise you are a victim of a scam. By then, money has exchanged hands and you may or may not be able to recover missing funds.
What can you do to protect against a MITM attack?
Be aware of potential phishing emails. They could appear to be from a trusted source, masked as from your family, friends or even your bank. Instead of clicking on the link, type the website address into your browser.
Moving your mouse over the link will show the website name. If the name doesn’t look like the site, don’t click on it.
Use secure Wi-Fi networks, or if using public networks, connect with a virtual private network (VPN)
Ensure you have a comprehensive internet security solution . An interesting article on this topic can be found here .
I think I am a victim, what can I do?
If you suspect that you’re a victim of a scam:
Change your passwords to be unique on all of your systems.
Check if there are any forwarding rules in your email account, and if found:
Record the email address being forwarded to
Confirm no-one in your organisation created this rule
Have your team check their email accounts for forwarding emails and reset their passwords too
Inform your clients by telephone and verbally reconfirm all details, especially bank account details
Delete the rule
If this has impacted your PEXA business, inform PEXA Security alias – firstname.lastname@example.org . PEXA is working with Law Enforcement to identify these types of behaviours and any information you provide could help in the tracking and potential capture of those involved in cyber-crime.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) provides an additional level of security to access your PEXA Workspace. The levels include your PEXA account name, password, your MFA token, and your digital signing token and pin. However, you still need to be vigilant when it comes to communicating with your client. Soon, PEXA will introduce a new app that will allow your clients to input financial data directly into the Workspace and enable you to request and receive information from your clients securely. [Stay tuned]
As our world becomes more and more connected online, it’s important to be aware of the cyber threats that could compromise the security of your personal information and business operations. Cyber criminals have a low cost of entry into criminal activities and they often have the anonymity to avoid detection. With many targets they will usually go for the easiest person to scam so stay informed and be aware. Collectively, we are better together, as we work as one to reduce the threat of cyber-crime and stay smart online.
By Craig Brown, Head of PEXA Security
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The team at PEXA continues to explore techniques and technologies to align with the ever-changing security landscape. Below is an update on current security initiatives happening on the PEXA platform including our insights into a topical security concern – phone porting.
In September, multi-factor authentication (MFA) was rolled out to PEXA members. MFA requires the user to provide two or more types of evidence to verify their identity when logging in to an account or completing a transaction. This includes a password and unique authentication code which regularly changes. Members choose to receive an authentication code by SMS, the PingID mobile app, or the PingID desktop app.
MFA was added as another layer of authentication on top of digitally signing . Members with the relevant authority must digitally sign-off transactions with their unique [bespoke] digital signing token and PIN, confirming that all details are correct prior to the transfer of funds.
More than verification
Additionally, we initiated the following measures to boost the protection of members while transacting online:
Increased monitoring of unusual activity surrounding password resets, new user creations and changes to BSB and account numbers. If such activity is detected by PEXA, a member of PEXA’s team will contact members to confirm that the activity is legitimate.
Machine learning algorithms to detect behavioural anomalies on a per user basis. If the behavioural pattern of a user changes, PEXA’s risk profiling mechanism is activated to trigger an alert. The member will then be promptly contacted by PEXA’s Security team.
Workspace time stamps and summary screen so that members can see when the Financial Settlement Schedule was last updated and by which user.
A current concern from industry is the possibility of phone porting – a situation where a scammer uses your personal details to port your mobile number from one provider to another, therefore accessing further personal details.
With a suite of security measures in place to protect PEXA members and your clients, and lawyers and conveyancers continuing to practice their due diligence, the small percentage of members who have chosen to receive their authentication code via SMS should not be alarmed.
It is important to note that for phone porting to occur, the scammer would require several pieces of a user’s ID, as well as the ability to convince a service provider to transfer the SIM details from one telco to another. Therefore, not only would the scammer need to know the targeted user’s personal information, they would also need to know if that user has chosen SMS as the preferred method.
To assist in preventing this from happening, I advise members to remain vigilant of people calling, emailing and requesting personal details.
If you have any questions about this information, please don’t hesitate to reply below.
Craig Brown Head of PEXA Security
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This checklist will help you protect your identity and the integrity of the network when using your PEXA login credentials and Digital Certificate to electronically sign in PEXA.
Following the steps below will help you remain compliant with your professional obligations, and those set out in the Model Participation Rules which govern your use of PEXA. Non-compliance with these obligations may result in the Registrar of Titles in your jurisdiction instructing PEXA to suspend or terminate your access to the network.
Ensure you are the only person who knows your PEXA password
Upon registering with PEXA, unique credentials are provided to an organisation’s nominated Subscriber Manager. If required, the Subscriber Manager can then create individual user profiles with unique login details for additional employees within their organisation. Employees should never share User IDs or password login details for PEXA.
Select different passwords for your email, desktop access and PEXA
Using the same password across multiple log in channels is risky - if one was compromised, then all could be compromised. Strong passwords have a minimum of 10 characters and use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters like !, &, and *. # (Using a special character in your password will increase the difficulty of breaking it significantly).
Ensure each employee required to sign documents and authorise funds in PEXA has their own Digital Certificate
Every Subscriber is required to obtain and maintain at least one Digital Certificate. The number required will depend on how many people will be signing on behalf of the organisation. Digital Certificates are assigned to an individual – when used to digitally sign, both the signer and organisation are clearly identifiable. If your Digital Certificate is shared within your firm and misused in a PEXA transaction, you will be identifiable as the signer.
Ensure no one else has access to your Digital Certificate and PIN
Your Digital Certificate is your unique, binding electronic signature. If a digitally signed document in a PEXA transaction is called into question, and it is suggested that the owner of the Digital Certificate was not the person who applied it, your professional reputation and ability to claim on your professional indemnity insurance could be impacted. Whenever your digital signature is applied in PEXA, it is taken to be signed by you and is binding, similar to a ‘wet’ signature. It is important to check documents and the Financial Settlement Schedule prior to signing. Should someone other than the owner of a Digital Certificate use it to sign in PEXA, it may be considered the equivalent of forging a ‘wet’ signature. We suggest you do not leave it inserted in your computer, and instead consider locking it away and ensure secure storage provisions are available for all employees with a Digital Certificate.
Plan ahead to ensure your business has sufficient coverage to sign in PEXA
Consider how many people in your organisation may be required to digitally sign in PEXA and arrange Digital Certificates for each unique user. When managing operations, you may need to account for staff leave, those who are frequently out of the office, and ensuring there are enough people present who are trained and authorised to sign in PEXA.
Know what to do if you or a staff member move on to a new job
A Digital Certificate identifies both you and the firm, therefore cannot be taken by the owner to a new job. A new Digital Certificate will need to be ordered by their new employer. In these circumstances, Digital Certificates must be cancelled by calling the PEXA Support Centre on 1300 084 515.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
MFA is utilised to confirm that the person logging in to PEXA is the person who owns the profile being used, and not someone else. MFA requires the user to provide two or more types of evidence to verify their identity when logging in to an account or completing a transaction. As MFA requires the owner of the profile to pair their mobile phone, logging in requires the user to have their device on them, enabling them to receive their authentication code by SMS or the PingID app directly. It’s important to note that each Subscriber will be required to authenticate with their own device every 12 hours.
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