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"Hacktivism" is on the rise

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Two-thirds of Australians think it’s unlikely they will be victims of a cyber-attack, an Australian SCAN social trend survey has revealed. So much so, that fewer than half of us ever bother to change our passwords or update anti-virus software.

"Hacktivism", as it is also known, has reached tipping point; the year 2011 had the most hacktivism-related crimes reported in history. The Internet Crime Complaint Centre reveals that hacktivism complaints soared from 16,000 in 2000 to 275,000 complaints in 2008.

We're learning more about hackers too; two-thirds of hackers reportedly live in the United States, while 10 percent live in the United Kingdom, 7.5 percent in Nigeria, 3.1 percent in Canada and 1.6 percent reside in China.

While it's hard to get an accurate impression of the number of people who have fallen prey, cyber and electronic crime in Australia is growing. From simple credit card fraud to massive political protests, hack-attacks continue to evolve as a powerful tool used to serve diverse causes worldwide.

Just last week the "Flashback" virus infected as many as half a million Apple computers worldwide, surprising many consumers who thought they were immune to such attacks. Increasingly mobile and tablet users are also at risk, leaving more of us open to malicious attack, says David Chalke from Australian SCAN.

"Most of us are honest and we would like to believe that everyone else is honest as well," he said.

But as scammers become increasingly sophisticated in their approach, fraud is becoming a threat to all.

Marco Ostini an information security analyst at Australian Computer Emergency Response said that for any device that runs code there is a reasonable chance of weakness that can be exploited.

"Tablet, mobile phone, it can be anything – even a pacemaker or a car. There is a lot of money to be made from it," he said.

Some of the newer fraud is really clever; hackers are now reportedly milking information from victims using social media networks. For example, with your name and bank account number (which can be sought through a legitimate transaction) there's a good chance a hacker will find you on Facebook. A bit of chatting later and it's likely that you'll spill the name of your pet or your mother's maiden name, which statistically gives the hacker a pretty good chance of guessing your password and draining your bank account.

But this doesn't mean you have to stop going online; just being careful and following a few simple rules can drastically improve your safety. A good starting place is to install a good anti-virus program and keep it up to date. And remember to change your passwords from time to time.

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