CANBERRA - Australian organised crimebusters have warned that cyber crime is exploding into a new dimension that reaches from multibillion-dollar global money laundering down to personal Facebook accounts and the iPhone boom.
Information is being stripped from web transactions and sold to crime syndicates, and companies are being attacked or robbed at an alarming rate that may still only be the tip of a vast iceberg.
A survey of 3000 Australian companies in 2008 said that 14 per cent had reported computer security incidents costing a total of A$649 million ($839 million) - yet authorities had been told of only 8 per cent of the breaches.
The companies in the Australian Institute of Criminology survey estimated the cost of protecting their computer systems at up to A$1.95 billion, but police believe many have a vested interest in not reporting cyber crime to avoid revealing the extent of their exposure.
Australian Crime Commission chief executive John Lawler warns that worse may be ahead.
"With the explosive uptake of personal communication devices there are certainly already opportunities that appeal to organised criminals," he told a conference on serious and organised crime.
"The future will undoubtedly bring even more opportunities, and strategists predict that so much of our information, entertainment and even our body data, our emotions and senses could be streamed through one individual and embedded device. What will organised crime make of that?"
Lawler said that the potential for new criminal business had been shown by the popularity of the iPhone, especially in the business market where it had become the third most-used system in the world and was being used or tested by more than 70 per cent of Fortune 100 companies.
IT managers were concerned because they could not centralise installation and security updates as they could with other software.
Criminals are already targeting the devices. In May Italian customs agents - who had earlier predicted organised crime would swing to such operations as a high-revenue alternative to more risky drug trafficking - broke up a ring selling fake Chinese-made iPhones.
And three months ago London police arrested nine people and seized 1000 iPhones involved in a network using premium phone lines to launder profits and hide identities.
Lawler said Australian authorities were also seeing more fraud against individuals using social networking sites. "Self-disclosure is fashionable and young people often build online profiles that include interests, pets, relationships, travel plans and life stories.
"Criminals can take such personal information to fraudulently obtain credit."
Lawler said there were also cases in which criminals used keylogger programmes to target online chat rooms and instant messaging systems to gain personal information for fraudulent use.
He said social networking was providing new opportunities for organised crime to network locally and globally, collecting data, making decisions, broadcasting their views and recruiting online.
In Australia, social networking played a key role in an investigation into a multimillion-dollar crime syndicate with links between international drug traffickers, the Comancheros outlaw bike gang, Chinese triads, corrupt officials and the maritime industry.
A key target was Hakan Ayik, 32, now on the run from a warrant for arrest on drug trafficking charges.
Lawler said Ayik had been a prolific user of networking sites - two of his Facebook friends had also been arrested - and had posted pictures and videos of his wealth and criminal connections.
He said online trading was also increasingly a target for criminals, with the information used to buy or sell online, sign up to memberships, donate to charities, answer surveys or enter competitions, now "raw material".
"It has value," Lawler said. "It is data that can be analysed, augmented, used, sold or rented, not just locally but globally and with tremendous speed."
He said that businesses were not immune, becoming involved in high-risk areas by trying to meet public demand for instant goods and services, with little in the way of effective self-regulation.
This left them open to exploitation by organised crime that was becoming increasingly corporate, with strategic business plans that scanned the marketplace to identify vulnerabilities and new opportunities, and turned new technologies to their profit.