Entries Tagged "Australia"

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Australia Outlaws Warrant Canaries

In the US, certain types of warrants can come with gag orders preventing the recipient from disclosing the existence of warrant to anyone else. A warrant canary is basically a legal hack of that prohibition. Instead of saying “I just received a warrant with a gag order,” the potential recipient keeps repeating “I have not received any warrants.” If the recipient stops saying that, the rest of us are supposed to assume that he has been served one.

Lots of organizations maintain them. Personally, I have never believed this trick would work. It relies on the fact that a prohibition against speaking doesn’t prevent someone from not speaking. But courts generally aren’t impressed by this sort of thing, and I can easily imagine a secret warrant that includes a prohibition against triggering the warrant canary. And for all I know, there are right now secret legal proceedings on this very issue.

Australia has sidestepped all of this by outlawing warrant canaries entirely:

Section 182A of the new law says that a person commits an offense if he or she discloses or uses information about “the existence or non-existence of such a [journalist information] warrant.” The penalty upon conviction is two years imprisonment.

Expect that sort of wording in future US surveillance bills, too.

Posted on March 31, 2015 at 7:14 AMView Comments

A Real Movie-Plot Threat Contest

The “Australia’s Security Nightmares: The National Security Short Story Competition” is part of Safeguarding Australia 2012.

To aid the national security community in imagining contemporary threats, the Australian Security Research Centre (ASRC) is organising Australia’s Security Nightmares: The National Security Short Story Competition. The competition aims to produce a set of short stories that will contribute to a better conception of possible future threats and help defence, intelligence services, emergency managers, health agencies and other public, private and non-government organisations to be better prepared. The ASRC competition also aims to raise community awareness of national security challenges, and lead to better individual and community resilience.

New, unpublished writers are encouraged to enter the competition.

The first prize is $1000, with the second prize being $500 and third prize being $300.


Entrants need to write a short story with a security scenario as the story plot line or as the essential backdrop. An Australia context to the story is required, and the story needs to be set between today and 2020. While the story is to be fictional, it needs to be grounded in a plausible, coherent and detailed security situation. Rather than just describing on an avalanche of frightening events, writers are encouraged to focus on the consequences and challenges posed by their scenarios, and tease out what the official and public responses would be. Such stories provide more useful insights for those planning to face security threats.

People who have entered my movieplot contests should take note; that’s real prize money. I’m working on my own submission: it involves al Qaeda, a comet hitting the earth, zombies, and feral pigs.

(And while we’re on the topic, here’s a video of the 100 greatest movie threats. Not movie-plot threats — threats from actual movies.)

Posted on September 12, 2012 at 6:23 AMView Comments

Australian Security Theater

I like the quote at the end of this excerpt:

Aviation officials have questioned the need for such a strong permanent police presence at airports, suggesting they were there simply “to make the government look tough on terror”.

One senior executive said in his experience, the officers were expensive window-dressing.

“When you add the body scanners, the ritual humiliation of old ladies with knitting needles and the farcical air marshals, it all adds up to billions of dollars to prevent what? A politician being called soft on terror, that’s what,” he said.

Posted on March 19, 2012 at 6:38 AMView Comments

How did the CIA and FBI Know that Australian Government Computers were Hacked?

Newspapers are reporting that, for about a month, hackers had access to computers “of at least 10 federal ministers including the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister.”

That’s not much of a surprise. What is odd is the statement that “Australian intelligence agencies were tipped off to the cyber-spy raid by US intelligence officials within the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

How did the CIA and the FBI know? Did they see some intelligence traffic and assume that those computers were where the stolen e-mails were coming from? Or something else?

Posted on April 12, 2011 at 6:03 AMView Comments

Australia Man Receives Reduced Sentence Due to Encryption

From the Courier-Mail:

A man who established a sophisticated network of peepholes and cameras to spy on his flatmates has escaped a jail sentence after police were unable to crack an encryption code on his home computer.


They found a series of holes drilled in to walls and ceilings throughout the Surfers Paradise apartment with wires leading back to Wyllie’s bedroom.

Police seized his personal computer, but files were encrypted and a video camera was not plugged in.


In passing sentence, Judge Devereaux took in to account the 33 days Wyllie had spent in custody after being arrested and ordered that two years’ probation was sufficient punishment, given that there was no hard evidence proving he had secretly recorded his flatmates.

Posted on October 21, 2009 at 7:19 AMView Comments

Cost/Benefit of Terrorism Security

The terrifying cost of feeling safer,” from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Sandler and his colleagues conducted an analysis of the costs and benefits of five different approaches to combating terrorism. I must warn you that, because of the dearth of information, this study is even more reliant on assumptions than usual. Even so, in three cases the cost of the action so far exceeds the benefits that doubts about the reliability of the estimates recede.

Because the loss of life is so low, they measure the benefits of successful counter-terrorism measures in terms of loss of gross domestic product avoided. Trouble is, terrorism does little to disrupt economic growth, as even September 11 demonstrated.

Using the case of the US, Sandler estimates that simply continuing the present measures involves costs exceeding benefits by a factor of at least 10. Adopting additional defensive measures (such as stepping up security at valuable targets) would, at best, entail costs 3.5 times the benefits. Taking more pro-active measures (such as invading Afghanistan) would have costs at least eight times the benefits.

According to Sandler, only greater international co-operation, or adopting more sensitive foreign policies to project a more positive image abroad, could produce benefits greater than their (minimal) costs.

What’s that? You don’t care what it costs because no one can put a value on saving a human life? Heard of opportunity cost? Taxpayers’ money we waste on excessive counter-terrorism measures is money we can’t spend reducing the gap between white and indigenous health — or, if that doesn’t appeal, on buying Olympic medals.

Posted on September 12, 2008 at 6:32 AMView Comments

The Continuing Cheapening of the Word "Terrorism"

Illegally diverting water is terrorism:

South Australian Premier Mike Rann says the diversion of water from the Paroo River in Queensland is an act of terrorism during a water crisis.

Anonymously threatening people with messages on playing cards, like the Joker in The Dark Knight, is terrorism:

Giles County deputies arrest two county teenagers they say made terroristic threats to people on playing cards.

Investigators say 18-year olds Brian Stafford and Justin Dirico left eight threatening playing cards at the Pearisburg Wal-Mart on Saturday, August 9th. The cards read “9 people will die” and “9 people will suffer” with the date 8-15-08.

A ninth card was found on a car at the Dairy Queen on Sunday, August 10th.

I’ve written about this sort of thing before.

EDITED TO ADD (8/26): In the UK, walking on a bicycle path is terrorism.

Posted on August 18, 2008 at 11:39 AMView Comments

More "War on the Unexpected"

The “War on the Unexpected” is being fought everywhere.

In Australia:

Bouncers kicked a Melbourne man out of a Cairns pub after paranoid patrons complained that he was reading a book called The Unknown Terrorist.

At the U.S. border with Canada:

A Canadian firetruck responding with lights and sirens to a weekend fire in Rouses Point, New York, was stopped at the U.S. border for about eight minutes, U.S. border officials said Tuesday.


The Canadian firefighters “were asked for IDs,” Trombley said. “I believe they even ran the license plate on the truck to make sure it was legal.”

In the UK:

A man who had gone into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds was shot twice with a Taser gun by police who feared he may have been a security threat.

In Maine:

A powdered substance that led to a baggage claim being shut down for nearly six hours at the Portland International Jetport was a mixture of flour and sugar, airport officials said Thursday.

Fear is winning. Refuse to be terrorized, people.

Posted on November 21, 2007 at 6:39 AMView Comments

APEC Conference in Sydney Social Engineered

The APEC conference is a big deal in Australia right now, and the security is serious. They’ve blocked off a major part of Sydney, implemented special APEC laws allowing extra search powers for the police, and even given everyone in Sydney the day off — just to keep people away.

Yesterday, a TV comedy team succeeded in driving a fake motorcade with Canadian flags right through all the security barriers and weren’t stopped until right outside President Bush’s hotel. Inside their motorcade was someone dressed up as Osama Bin Laden.


Most excellent:

The ABC later released a statement saying the team had no intention of entering a restricted zone and had been wearing mock “insecurity passes” that stated the convoy was a joke.

“It was a piece testing APEC security and the motorcade looked pretty authentic,” the Chaser source said.

“They approached the green zone, and they just waved them through ­ much to their amazement, because the sketch was meant to stop there with them being rejected.

“They were then waved through into the red zone, but rather than go all the way through they made the call to turn around.”

“Apparently that was the first time the police realised it was not authentic and they swooped in and arrested everybody.”

Eight members of the comedy team, including the film crew, were arrested, as well as three hire car drivers.

The fake motorcade ­ three cars and a motorcycle escort ­had Canadian identification.

“We just thought Canada would be a country the cops wouldn’t scrutinise too closely,” said Chaser performer Chris Taylor.

Another article.

I’ve written about these large-scale social engineering pranks before (although at this point I doubt that the Super Bowl prank was real). The trick: look like you fit in.

I’ve also written about the Australian comedy group before. They’re from a television show called The Chaser’s War on Everyhing, and they’ve tested security cameras and Trojan horses. And interviewed ignorant Americans.

And APEC security is over-the-top stupid:

On the same day police won a court battle to stop protesters marching down George Street through the APEC security zone, it emerged yesterday that at least one cafe near George Bush’s hotel has been ordered by police not to set outdoor tables with silverware, lest it fall into the wrong hands.

And office workers in Bridge Street’s AMP tower have been told to stay away from the windows, draw the blinds and not to look at helicopters.

EDITED TO ADD (9/7): Video of the motorcade and the arrests. Photo of the fake security pass.

Great video from The Chasers on APEC and security, including some very funny footage about what normal people are willing to do and have done to them in the name of security.

Posted on September 7, 2007 at 1:53 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.