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Staffer Reveals How To Tap Mobiles ATO-Style: Wrist Slapped

An Australian Tax Office staff member has been disciplined – though apparently not sacked or suspended – after publishing online a step-by-step guide, apparently ATO-based, on how to hack mobile phones, potentially teaching criminals to steal sensitive information.

The instructions – published on LinkedIn – showed how to bypass passwords and obtain data even if the phone battery is flat and does not have a SIM card, all apparently used by the ATO.

The breach was revealed by the ABC, which found the ATO was unaware of it when contacted for comment. The material was then taken offline within an hour, the ABC reported.

The employee – so far unnamed and apparently a male – claimed to have worked on intelligence taskforces within the Tax Office and to have researched the so-called Dark Web for the Government. So far, at least, he has not been sacked or suspended.

The ABC was told he has instead been “reminded of his responsibilities under the Public Service Act”.

According to the ABC, the material involved had been developed and presented within the Tax Office. “The disclosure has shocked some security experts who did not believe the ATO was developing these technical capabilities,” its report says.

(That’s a bit of nonsense, CDN believes. The ATO’s ability to tap phones has been widely – and officially – recorded in parliamentary hearings, and most recently widely publicised in the case of the ATO tapping the phone of its deputy commissioner Michael Cranston to uncover the fraudulent activities of his son, who was part of a gang defrauding ATO of hundreds of millions of dollars. The issue in this week’s case is more about an employee broadcasting just how the tapping is done – Ed).

An ATO spokeswoman said that phones were only accessed with a warrant obtained under the Crimes Act, or with written consent from the owner. “For operational reasons, we do not disclose information about when different tools are used as part of our operations,” she said.

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan said he was concerned that information had been published showing how the Tax Office can break into mobile phones.

He said the Government was taking the issue seriously, but refused to confirm if the techniques were part of a new fraud strategy.

“I don’t really want to go into the ATO’s methodologies,” he said.

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