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Law grad attacks cyber crime

Vanessa Lam

13 April 2017: Changes to self-defence legislation could stifle the rise of cyber attacks, according to a University of Canberra graduate.

Madeleine Dove spent 2016 examining if people should be legally allowed to defend themselves during online attacks.

Ms Dove used her honours project to look at the legal issues surrounding cybercrime, which is costing the Australian economy more than $1 billion a year and could reach as high as $17 billion.

In her thesis, Should Australia introduce Online Self-Defence Laws? the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (Honours) graduate considered extending current self-defence legislation to include online attacks.

“When a person is attacked in the real world, they are legally permitted to fight back in self-defence but should the same legal rights apply if you are attacked online?” Ms Dove said.

Ms Dove said the types of cybercrimes the legislation could include are attacks that damage a person’s computer system or network, such as hacking, ransomware (a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their system), or denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

“Last year, a malware strain called Mirai was used to turn internet-connected devices, like cameras and routers, into bots. These bots were used to launch several massive DDoS attacks. But researchers discovered a vulnerability in the Mirai code that could take control of the bot and end the attack. This is the sort of thing people may be able to do in online self-defence.”

Ms Dove acknowledged any changes to existing legislation wouldn’t be without challenges.

“I think that online self-defence merits serious consideration but it’s a little too early to say when and how it could be implemented,” she said. There are several significant downsides to this system, which need to be addressed such as accurately identifying an attacker.

“Unless you have absolute certainty that you are responding against the correct entity, there is a very real risk of responding against an innocent bystander. In addition to this, online self-defence could cause complications for Australia’s international relations, as well as introducing a significant grey area into our legal system,” she said.

Ms Dove joined leading cyber security experts from around the world to present her findings at the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) conference held in Canberra last month.

“It was an honour to present at the ACSC conference and contribute my work to the broader cyber security field,” she said.

The 24-year-old said she was excited to graduate from the University of Canberra on Tuesday 11 April.

“I loved the variety the degree offered. The opportunity to enrol in elective units led me to discover new areas of interest including in cybercrime. I’d love to work somewhere in the cyber security field and I’m looking forward to putting the skills I learnt in my degree into practice,” she said.

Read about more of our recent graduates:

Paul’s inspiring walk to collect UC degrees

Kefu’s UC love story

Mistletoe’s role in treating cancer focus of PhD