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Another day, another data breach – what to do when it happens to you

With so many reports of data breaches, it is easy to 
tune out to what is happening. Shutterstock

Reports of data breaches are an increasingly common occurrence. In recent weeks, TicketmasterHealthEnginePageUp and the Tasmanian Electoral Commission have all reported breaches.

It is easy to tune out to what is happening, particularly if it’s not your fault it happened in the first place.

But there are simple steps you can take to minimise the risk of the problem progressing from “identity compromise” to “identity crime”.

In 2012 former FBI Director Robert Mueller famously said:

I am convinced that there are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be. And even they are converging into one category: companies that have been hacked and will be hacked again.

The types of personal information compromised might include names, addresses, dates of birth, credit card numbers, email addresses, usernames and passwords.

In some cases, very sensitive details relating to health and sexuality can be stolen.

What’s the worst that can happen?

In most cases, offenders are looking to gain money. But it’s important to differentiate between identity compromise and identity misuse.

Identity compromise is when your personal details are stolen, but no further action is taken. Identity misuse is more serious. That’s when your personal details are not only breached but are then used to perpetrate fraud, theft or other crimes.

Offenders might withdraw money from your accounts, open up new lines of credit or purchase new services in your name, or port your telecommunication services to another carrier. In worst case scenarios, victims of identity crime might be accused of a crime perpetrated by someone else.

The Australian government estimates that 5% of Australians (approximately 970,000 people) will lose money each year through identity crime, costing at least $2.2 billion annually. And it’s not always reported, so that’s likely a conservative estimate.

While millions of people are exposed to identity compromise, far fewer will actually experience identity misuse.

But identity crime can be a devastating and traumatic event. Victims spend an average of 18 hours repairing the damage and seeking to restore their identity.

It can be very difficult and cumbersome for a person to prove that any actions taken were not of their own doing.

How will I know I’ve been hacked?

Many victims of identity misuse do not realise until they start to receive bills for credit cards or services they don’t recognise, or are denied credit for a loan.

The organisations who hold your data often don’t realise they have been compromised for days, weeks or even months.

And when hacks do happen, organisations don’t always tell you upfront. The introduction of mandatory data breach notification laws in Australia is a positive step toward making potential victims aware of a data compromise, giving them the power to take action to protect themselves.

What can I do to keep safe?

Most data breaches will not reveal your entire identity but rather expose partial details. However, motivated offenders can use these details to obtain further information.

These offenders view your personal information as a commodity that can be bought, sold and traded in for financial reward, so it makes sense to protect it in the same way you would your money.

Here are some precautionary measures you can take to reduce the risks:

  • Always use strong and unique passwords. Many of us reuse passwords across multiple platforms, which means that when one is breached, offenders can access multiple accounts. Consider using a password manager.
  • Set up two-factor authentication where possible on all of your accounts.
  • Think about the information that you share and how it could be pieced together to form a holistic picture of you. For example, don’t use your mother’s maiden name as your personal security question if your entire family tree is available on a genealogy website.

And here’s what to do if you think you have been caught up in a data breach:

  • Change passwords on any account that’s been hacked, and on any other account using the same password.
  • Tell the relevant organisation what has happened. For example, if your credit card details have been compromised, you should contact your bank to cancel the card.
  • Report any financial losses to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network.
  • Check all your financial accounts and consider getting a copy of your credit report via EquifaxD&B or Experian. You can also put an alert on your name to prevent any future losses.
  • Be alert to any phishing emails. Offenders use creative methods to trick you into handing over personal information that helps them build a fuller profile of you.
  • If your email or social media accounts have been compromised, let your contacts know. They might also be targeted by an offender pretending to be you.
  • You can access personalised support at iDcare, the national support centre for identity crime in Australia and New Zealand.

The vast number of data breaches happening in the world makes it easy to tune them out. But it is important to acknowledge the reality of identity compromise. That’s not to say you need to swear off social media and never fill out an online form. Being aware of the risks and how to best to reduce them is an important step toward protecting yourself.

For further information about identity crime you can consult ACORNScamwatch, or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

If you are experiencing any distress as a result of identity crime, please contact Lifeline.

Read more: Your online privacy depends as much on your friends’ data habits as your own

Read more: We need to talk about the data we give freely of ourselves online and why it’s useful

This article was written by:
Image of Cassandra CrossCassandra Cross – [Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Queensland University of Technology




This article is part of a syndicated news program via



Green is the new black: why retailers want you to know about their green credentials

 Is it really that hard to switch to paper  
or cloth bags? Guus Baggermans | Unsplash

Australian supermarkets phasing out single-use plastic bags is just one example of how retailers are fiercely engaged in a race to be “green”. Other examples are dumping plastic straws, buying back used products and reducing unnecessary packaging.

Rather than competing on price or time, green credentials offer a way for retailers to differentiate themselves. Encouraging customers to make overtly good moves also has a psychological effect, allowing them to excuse poor behaviour elsewhere – such as buying a product that may not be ethically sourced.

Having a strong green record also helps create a buffer for when events like plastic bags killing whales or sweatshop abuse hit the headlines.

Way back in April Woolworths announced the removal of all single-use bags across the country by the end of June. Although, after some backlash, Woolworths has said it will give bags to customers until the 8th of July.

Coles will also ban single-use bags from July 1.

Woolworths has since announced further strategies for “a greener future”. These include reducing unnecessary packaging and linking with “food waste diversion partners”.

However, sustainability is bigger than just food waste and plastics.

Ikea Australia recently announced it will “buy back” used furniture to resell. IKEA has been doing this in other markets, like Hong Kong, for some time.

Buying ‘green’ makes us feel good

The consumer market for green products and services was estimated at US$230 billion in 2009 and predicted to grow to $845 billion by 2015.

While consumers are increasingly engaging in shopping activities that support the environment, such as reusing shopping bags, buying local and supporting local farmers and producers, at the same time many are still tempted by A$4 T-shirts from Kmart.

This behaviour can perhaps be explained by the effect of “moral self-licensing”. This is where consumers do something good to offset their bad behaviour.

In the context of shopping, a good deed, a customer putting reusable bags in the boot of the car, will be followed by a not-so-good deed, such as driving to the shops in our gas-guzzling 4WD.

In this way, the first choice gives us a positive self-concept, which negates or “licenses” the subsequent more self-indulgent choice.

A slippery (green) slope

The only concern for companies is that they might be accused of “greenwashing” – using marketing to create the perception that their policies, purpose or products are environmentally friendly, when that’s not really the case.

Despite consumer awareness of the practice of greenwashing, the number of companies making green claims has escalated sharply in recent years as organisations strive to meet escalating consumer demand for greener products and services.

According to one advertising consultancy, there were 2,219 products making green claims in 2009 alone, a 79% increase over two years earlier.

Read more: Getting rid of plastic bags: a windfall for supermarkets but it won’t do much for the environment

Research shows that when consumers are sceptical about a retailer’s corporate social responsibility practices, this can damage the retailer’s brand, increase sensitivity to negative information and stimulate unfavourable word of mouth.

Over the past couple of years, we have seen exactly these phenomena play out again and again.

Several years ago, Walmart faced scrutiny about its corporate social responsibility claims relating to renewable energy, the industrialisation of food systems and its cheaply made, disposable products.

Starbuck’s green credentials were met with scepticism when it was reported some stores left taps running all day to clear pipes.

Other retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, JC Penney and have faced fines for making misleading environmental claims.

Banning the single-use plastic bag alone will not save the environment. Sadly, it is not as simple as that. Research shows lightweight plastic shopping bags make up around 1.6% of litter in Australia or less than 2% of landfill.

However, despite some backlash, banning the bag is certainly a step in the right direct.

Remembering to bring reusable shopping bags is a fairly significant change in shopping behaviour, but the practice has been successfully implemented in states such as Tasmania, which banned single use bags several years ago.

This article was written by:
Image of Gary MortimerGary Mortimer – [Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via



Huawei is a test case for Australia in balancing the risks and rewards of Chinese tech

 Huawei Technologies Australia Chairman John Lord  
addressed the National Press Club in Canberra on June 27. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Chinese communications giant Huawei has hit back at detractors in the lead-up to an anticipated decision by the Australian government. The company is likely to be barred from participating in the building of Australia’s next-generation 5G mobile network because of its links to the Chinese government and military.

John Lord, Chairman of Huawei’s Australian subsidiary, in his address to the National Press Club yesterday, has called claims that the company is a national security risk “uninformed” and “plain wrong”.

Read more: Explainer: why Chinese telecoms participating in Australia’s 5G network could be a problem

Huawei’s role in China’s global strategy

Lord asserts that Huawei is not controlled by the Chinese government because unlike state-owned enterprises, Huawei is privately owned. While this may be technically true, the company has an opaque history with strong links to the Chinese government and military.

In fact, government support was crucial to Huawei’s success. As one of China’s “national champions”, Huawei was nurtured through a combination of protectionist measures, cheap financing, subsidies, favourable regulations, and diplomatic support abroad.

Currently, Huawei plays an important role in China’s global strategy, including by connecting participant countries in China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative through building telecommunications networks.

Another concern that Lord addressed was Huawei’s obligations to assist Chinese authorities, intelligence agencies or the military under China’s national intelligence and cyber security laws. He insisted that Huawei would obey Australian law and that Chinese law has “no legitimacy outside China”.

Those acquainted with the Chinese Communist Party would know that it is above the law, and on occasions has acted contrary to Chinese law, including its constitution. Recent cases have demonstrated the willingness of Chinese tech giants to work with the Chinese government. This has included helping the Chinese government crack down on dissent through censorship, and spying on Chinese citizens.

Lord also made a strong argument based on Huawei’s profit motive and reputation. Huawei clearly has a commercial incentive to ensure that it does not compromise Australia’s national security, for example through working with Chinese intelligence. However, it is rather doubtful that Huawei would be able to resist demands from the Chinese government given its massive power and reach.

What does all this mean?

Huawei will almost certainly be barred from participating in the building of Australia’s next-generation information infrastructure.

Without Huawei, the 5G networks will probably be more expensive to build and of lower quality. However, this would reduce some national security risks that come with Huawei’s participation, such as cyber espionage concerns.

The real question is whether the reduced risk is worth the cost.

On a broader level, as Lord rightly points out, Australia needs to accept that:

…innovation and technological advances do not always come from traditional companies and countries.

The emergence of China as a tech giant puts into sharp focus the question of how to deal with Chinese companies with close links to the Chinese government and military.

In the future, many of China’s high-tech companies may look to operate or invest in sectors that are crucial to Australia’s national security. As shown by the Huawei case, there is a real trade-off between economic and security imperatives for Australia. How to strike the right balance is a tough question indeed.

This article was written by:
Image of Adam NiAdam Ni – [Researcher, Strategic and Defense Studies Centre, Australian National University]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Even a microchipped pet can be lost if your data is out of date

 Pets are beloved family members. from

From July 1st 2018, every state and territory of Australia (excluding the Northern Territory) will have laws making microchipping cats and dogs compulsory.

South Australia is the latest state to make microchipping mandatory, part of a series of reforms aimed at increasing responsible pet ownership.

Microchipping – and appropriate use of associated databases – can help you keep track of your pets, and aid governments in tracking down unethical animal breeding practices. But data must be kept up to date.

A microchip is only as good as the information it unlocks. If you move, change your phone number or transfer ownership of your pet, update your pet’s microchip registry details. A lost animal with out-of-date microchip details is no more identifiable than a stray animal with no ID.

 After watching this, make sure to check your pet’s microchip details are up to date.
Smaller than a rice grain

Could you stop panting, please? Anusha Barwa on Unsplash

A pet microchip is an implant smaller than a grain of rice, inserted under the skin of an animal. It is inactive until a microchip scanner is passed over the microchip, completing an electric circuit and allowing a message to be passed to the scanner. The message is a unique number which allows permanent identification of the animal.

Microchips are implanted by an authorised implanter, though the definition of “authorised” varies across each state and territory.

Generally, implanters have to complete an approved course and include veterinarians, veterinary nurses and council officers. Once authorised, the implanter will be given a licensing number to allow completion of paperwork and grant access to databases containing owner information.

Microchipping of pets is an important part of being a responsible owner. It indicates ownership, allowing lost, stray or stolen pets to be reunited with their owners.

Databases are complex

In an ideal world, all lost dogs and cats would be reunited with their owners through their microchip. However, while the microchips are relatively simple, the databases used to maintain the records of the microchipped animals are more complicated.

It’s nice inside the house. Alexis Chloe on Unsplash

There are currently eight databases in Australia, with six privately owned and two state government owned.

The privately owned databases have developed a website called Pet Address, which allows someone to look up a pet’s microchip number and be directed to the database which owns the information.

However, the two state government registries are not part of this website. This means that approved implanters still have to search across multiple databases for your pet’s details, increasing the risk for human error.

It can also lead to situations where animals that are microchipped are unable to be identified. For example, if a dog was microchipped in NSW, but then moves to QLD, vets in QLD would be unable to access the client’s details as only NSW authorised implanters can access this data.

New system for dogs and cats

The system being set up by the South Australian government, called Dogs and Cats Online [DACO] will include dog and cat microchip numbers. It also combines the dog registers of 69 councils as well as the new SA dog and cat breeder register and existing databases on accredited assistance dogs and dog attacks.

One advantage of DACO is entering and changing details will be free for pet owners. Changing details on the private systems may involve a fee, which can mean owners are less likely to update them.

We love you. And your treats. Jay Wennington on Unsplash

In developing its new DACO system, the SA Dog and Cat Management Board has worked through the access that each user will require. While it is an advantage to quickly be able to identify a dog or cat when they are lost, there are also privacy issues with unlimited access to the databases. Many vets and shelters have suggested DACO be integrated with the other six microchip databases in Pet Address. However, this also has privacy implications.

Should a council or shelter in Victoria have access to the personal information of pets owners in SA? Can the two systems be synchronised in a limited way, so that a search on one system will only let the searcher know which database the information is stored on?

Tracking pets is useful

Some state governments are using microchips beyond their original intended purpose. For example, in Queensland all dogs born after May 2017 are now required to have a Supply Number attached to their microchip number. When an approved implanter fills out the microchipping paperwork of a dog in Queensland, the Supply Number is also included, linking the animal to its former owner (breeder) and current owner. This will allow tracking of unethical breeding practices.

Compliance with microchipping laws, even in states which have had them for many years, can be poor. For example, the ACT has had compulsory microchipping for all dogs and cats by 12 weeks of age since 2001. Despite this, data presented at a recent conference indicated only 68% of adult dogs and 23% of adult cats entered the RSPCA ACT shelter microchipped.

All of the concerns around databases and privacy with microchips are heavily outweighed by the benefits to pets and their owners. Pets that are microchipped with up to date contact details are far more likely to be reunited with their owners, as shown by a Queensland study.

After you’ve finished reading this, take the time to look up your pet’s microchip details and ensure they are up to date. You might just save your pet’s life.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Bronwyn OrrBronwyn Orr – [Veterinarian and PhD candidate, University of Sydney]
Image of Susan HazelSusan Hazel – [Senior Lecturer, School of Animal and Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


The internet is terrible at answering most tough questions. Our ‘wisdom of the crowd’ tool can help

 In 1906, English statistician Sir Francis Galton 
observed the median answer of 800 participants trying to guess the
weight of a cow was accurate within 1% of the correct answer. Mavis Wong

When making tough decisions, humans have long sought advice from a higher power.

In ancient times, it was oracles such as Pythia at Delphi. Then the enlightenment and the industrial revolution gave rise to disciplinary experts. In the digital age, algorithms and computers have become trusted advisors.

But the role of experts has recently come under question. Government bureaucrats are often not perceived as trustworthy. Scientists may disagree about the best course of action. Computer algorithms have come under fire for perpetuating societal stereotypes and biases.

To address this, we – in partnership with universities in Australia, Finland, and Japan – developed a crowd-powered system to provide “decision support” for complex problems. We’re calling it “AnswerBot.”

Not all questions are the same

Consider the following two questions:

What car do the Ghostbusters drive?
Which car should I buy?

The first question is factual. The internet is great at answering such questions. Post a question like this on Facebook, Quora, or even Google it, and you’re likely to get an answer in moments.

The second question requires decision support, which, in the past, has been provided by experts.

Similar questions include:

Which diet should I follow?
How can I treat my back pain?
How can we deal with racism?

The internet is terrible at answering such questions. Forum-based platforms are likely to lead to heated debate at best, or a long list of random responses that are hard to interpret. Platforms like Reddit and Quora use voting to float “good answers” to the top. However, the answers might be biased, incomplete, or fail to consider the perspective of the person asking the question.

Tapping into the wisdom of the crowd

In 1906, the English statistician Sir Francis Galton observed a competition in the UK town of Plymouth, where the aim was to correctly guess the weight of a cow. The median guess of 800 participants was accurate within 1% of the correct answer. Indeed, it was more accurate than any single person – even the cow experts. This finding came to be known as the “wisdom of the crowd”.

Our tool seeks to answer questions that require decision support by tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd”. The approach is simple, yet has already produced promising results. Here’s how it works:

Step 1

Work out what question needs to be answered. It has to be formulated in a manner that requires decision support. Let’s assume the question is “Which car should I buy?”

Step 2

AnswerBot begins posing this question to human contributors. It asks them to write down possible solutions, such as Mercedes, BMW, Mazda or Ford.

Step 3

The system asks the contributors to include criteria that should be considered, such as safety, price, fuel consumption, acceleration and comfort.

Step 4

The system generates all the possible solution-criteria combinations from the previous two steps and asks the contributors: “On a scale 0-100, how would you rate [Mercedes] in terms of [safety]”? By iterating through all combinations of cars and criteria, we construct a knowledge base that captures the collective wisdom of hundreds of people.

Finally, our website displays various criteria (safety, price and so on). Users can tweak associated sliders based on their personal preferences, and the system recommends a set of answers, ordered by their suitability.

Effectively, our system solves an optimisation problem – we use machine learning to rank the most suitable answers in our knowledge base, given someone’s preferences.

AnswerBot. Author provided

As problems become more challenging, solutions become riddled with trade offs. A person may trade off fuel efficiency to get a car that has a better safety rating. But inability to communicate these trade offs can lead to lack of trust in the decision and decision maker, or to any recommendations that one receives.

Our tool makes transparent the complex trade offs required decision making by involving a large number of people in the process.

Our approach can work even with small numbers

AnswerBot has been deployed to answer a number of “small” and “large” problems, ranging from finding a restaurant or movie, to choosing a weight loss diet, treating lower back pain, and dealing with racism. We have found that it is a great way to summarise a heated debate with hundreds of participants – and it is also possible to filter out “noise” or inappropriate answers.

By partnering with organisations and online media we can attract hundreds of contributors to build the knowledge base – although we have shown that our approach can work with just tens of contributors if there is strong agreement among them.

And our evaluations have found the quality of generated solutions are comparable to traditional online platforms like IMDB and TripAdvisor, and its recommendations are better than just randomly choosing one of solutions.

AnswerBot can also be used to test perceptions of the crowd. We asked it to answer the question “How can I treat my back pain”?

After collecting our knowledge base from hundreds of people, we showed our results to medical experts and gave them the opportunity to interact with the final decision support sliders. In fact, they disagreed with some of the recommendations – for example, the crowd seemed to think that surgery is a silver bullet solution to back pain. The experts were fascinated that it revealed how patients think about back pain, and what their misconceptions are.

The wisdom of multiple experts

We also tried AnswerBot on medical experts themselves.

We conducted a study where the “crowd” was actually made up of professional back pain experts. When our results came back, we found that the experts, in fact, disagreed among themselves.

Our decision support tool captured, in a very transparent way, the collective understanding of the experts. Any single expert could now use the tool to compare their perception against their fellow experts.

Our system combines human intuition with machine learning to provide decision support. By enabling the manipulation of preferences, the system provides transparency in choosing solutions, and facilitates users to experiment with various trade offs before making a decision.

Combining the opinions of large numbers of people – experts and non-experts alike – can provide decision support for arbitrary problems.

This article was written by:
Vassilis Kostakos – [Professor of Human Computer Interaction, University of Melbourne]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via