By Anthony Stavrinos

When the referendum on whether Australia should become a republic
was entering the home straight in late 1999, hackers got to the
republicans’ website.

Greg Barns, former chair of the ARM, recalls the attack came at a
critical time in the campaign, about three weeks out
from the actual referendum. “It was very brief, we got it back up and
running within a couple of hours,” Barns told Crikey. “About the same
time, our offices got attacked and I held a press conference about it.
We always suspected it was some sort of extremist nut who did it. We
never got to find out who.”

There’s a story in today’s Smage
about the computer hacking talents of Andrew Sanders, the man police
accuse of being a white supremacist after he was arrested in connection
to the Cronulla violence over the weekend, before being released on
bail on the condition that he went “home to his mother.”

I spoke to Sanders – actually, his internet alias ‘Valiant’ – in
2000 while reporting for my former employer, AAP. At the time, he was
20 and was wallowing in the glory of publicity that
suggested he hacked the Australian Republican Movement’s (ARM) website.
My interview with Valiant was after the shut down of the government’s
GST website due to a security breach. The website was shut after a
computer enthusiast e-mailed back bank accounts and other details to
businesses that had sent them to the site.

“It’s very easy to get into government websites in Australia because
they have minimal security,” Valiant bragged. The information accessed
from the GST website was there and freely available, he said, adding
that Australia’s hacker community shared with each other any
information it had about vulnerable web sites.