CANBERRA: An Australian Tax Office staffer has published a how-to-guide to hacking phones revealing the depths of the government agency’s investigative tactics, ABC reports. Instructions posted to the employee’s LinkedIn page showed a step-by-step guide on how to access mobile devices and bypass passwords even if the handset is turned off.
The online guide has since been removed from LinkedIn. An ATO spokeswoman told nine.com.au the taxation office only accessed phones after being given permission by the owner or with the relevant legislative approval. “Any use of the software, including to bypass the security lock of a phone, is conducted with the relevant legislative approval (primarily section 3E of the Crimes Act) or following written consent from the owner of the device. As this activity is conducted legally, it is not correct to refer to it as ‘hacking’,” she said. “For operational reasons, we do not disclose information about when different tools are used as part of our investigations.” The spokeswoman said the ATO had contacted Israeli firm Cellebrite – the company who hacked San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone for the FBI – to provide staff with training. “ATO IT security staff use a range of technologies, including Universal Forensic Extraction software provided by Cellebrite, as part of our digital forensic capability to support investigations,” the spokeswoman said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has recently pushed for a crackdown on encrypted technology. Mr Turnbull foreshadowed the Five Eyes meeting during an address to the Liberal Party Federal Council last month, insisting the internet cannot be an ungoverned space. Attorney-General George Brandis and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton travelled to Ottawa last month to attend the Five Eyes meeting with the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. “Australia will lead the discussion of ways to address this issue; in particular the involvement of industry in thwarting the encryption of terrorist messaging,” Senator Brandis said. The ABC reported the staffer has not been fired after presenting the phone hacking guide within the ATO and publishing it online.