Australians at threat from ATO email phishing scam
It is believed that 70 million emails were sent on 30 August - more than 1 in 25 of all emails sent in Australia that day - purporting to be from the Australian Taxation Office and warning people about a problem with their tax return.
Anti-virus company Trend Micro said most of the scam emails were blocked by spam filters but many managed to get through.
The attack came in two parts. The first was an email that directed people to enter their personal details using a fake page setup to look like it was the official ATO website. When users clicked to submit their information, ‘key log’ malware was installed on their computers which was used to access their banking information.
It has been estimated that 8000 Australians visited the phishing website.
Residual attacks also occurred the following day and three times in early September. Unlike most phishing scams which tend to come mainly out of eastern Europe, these attacks came from within Australia.
John Papandis, public relations manager for Trend Micro, said it was really hard to be able to tell how many people were taken in by the scam because their research suggested at least some people click on the links deliberately to mess around with cyber criminals.
“Were 80 per cent just playing with it, while 20 per cent were getting tricked? It's impossible to say,” he said.
The ATO said it received thousands of reports from the community regarding “bogus emails using the ATO brand”, as well as thousands more about phone scams.
Technology market research firm, The Radicati Group, estimated that approximately 294 billion emails were sent per day, in 2010, meaning more than 2.8 million emails are sent every second and about 90 trillion emails are sent per year.
Ninety percent of the millions and trillions of messages are spam or viruses, according to the report, with only about 1.9 billion users sending legitimate emails.
Identity fraud costs the Australian economy $1 billion every year, according to the Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that $1.4 billion had been lost due to consumer scams and personal frauds, including identity theft and credit card fraud. It also found that 6.4 million Australians aged 15 and over were exposed to a scam between 2010-2011, of which 514,500 became scam victims.
Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System
In a detailed investigative report, the Guardian reported that Chinese tech company Taigusys can now monitor facial expressions. The company claims that it can track fake smiles, chart genuine emotions, and help police curtail security threats. ‘Ordinary people here in China aren’t happy about this technology, but they have no choice. If the police say there have to be cameras in a community, people will just have to live with it’, said Chen Wei, company founder and chairman. ‘There’s always that demand, and we’re here to fulfil it’.
Who Will Use the Data?
As of right now, the emotion-recognition market is supposed to be worth US$36bn by 2023—which hints at rapid global adoption. Taigusys counts Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and PetroChina among its 36 clients, but none of them has yet revealed if they’ve purchased the new AI. In addition, Taigusys will likely implement the technology in Chinese prisons, schools, and nursing homes.
It’s not likely that emotion-recognition AI will stay within the realm of private enterprise. President Xi Jinping has promoted ‘positive energy’ among citizens and intimated that negative expressions are no good for a healthy society. If the Chinese central government continues to gain control over private companies’ tech data, national officials could use emotional data for ideological purposes—and target ‘unhappy’ or ‘suspicious’ citizens.
How Does It Work?
Taigusys’s AI will track facial muscle movements, body motions, and other biometric data to infer how a person is feeling, collecting massive amounts of personal data for machine learning purposes. If an individual displays too much negative emotion, the platform can recommend him or her for what’s termed ‘emotional support’—and what may end up being much worse.
Can We Really Detect Human Emotions?
This is still up for debate, but many critics say no. Psychologists still debate whether human emotions can be separated into basic emotions such as fear, joy, and surprise across cultures or whether something more complex is at stake. Many claim that AI emotion-reading technology is not only unethical but inaccurate since facial expressions don’t necessarily indicate someone’s true emotional state.
In addition, Taigusys’s facial tracking system could promote racial bias. One of the company’s systems classes faces as ‘yellow, white, or black’; another distinguishes between Uyghur and Han Chinese; and sometimes, the technology picks up certain ethnic features better than others.
Is China the Only One?
Not a chance. Other countries have also tried to decode and use emotions. In 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a heavily contested training programme (SPOT) that taught airport personnel to monitor passengers for signs of stress, deception, and fear. But China as a nation rarely discusses bias, and as a result, its AI-based discrimination could be more dangerous.
‘That Chinese conceptions of race are going to be built into technology and exported to other parts of the world is troubling, particularly since there isn’t the kind of critical discourse [about racism and ethnicity in China] that we’re having in the United States’, said Shazeda Ahmed, an AI researcher at New York University (NYU).
Taigusys’s founder points out, on the other hand, that its system can help prevent tragic violence, citing a 2020 stabbing of 41 people in Guangxi Province. Yet top academics remain unconvinced. As Sandra Wachter, associate professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: ‘[If this continues], we will see a clash with fundamental human rights, such as free expression and the right to privacy’.