Monday, 16 April 2012

Can My Facebook Photos Negate My Good Fame and Character?

Dr Catherine Bond

Teachers of legal ethics are to some extent used to the unusual questions that arise in classes on procedures and policies for admission to practice as a solicitor or barrister. In many instances this class will be a student’s first exposure to what happens post-law school and the requirements that the student be both eligible to be admitted (having previously completed the requisite academic qualifications and practical legal training) and are suitable to be admitted, on the basis that he or she is a ‘fit and proper person’. A fit and proper person is defined to include a person of good fame and character, who is not insolvent, has not previously practised in Australia or overseas without a practising certificate, or who has not previously committed an offence. Perhaps understandably, when students become aware of these rules, closets full of skeletons past begin to open and nervous students begin to question whether this or that incident could have an impact on his or her admission to practise law.

Great emphasis has been placed in New South Wales and more generally on the act of disclosure: that an applicant disclose any prior or current behaviour that may negate their good fame and character, ranging in activities from receiving a transport fine to a finding of plagiarism while at university. The forms that potential solicitors must complete are geared towards this act of disclosure, containing a number of general conduct statements that, if one is not true about the applicant, requires the applicant to ‘strike out’ and disclose the circumstances as to why that statement may not be true. The consequences of a failure to disclose can often lead to a decision by the Legal Profession Admission Board to not admit an applicant or, if the failure to disclose is found following admission, to be struck off from legal practice.

In a recent class a discussion arose as to what impact the existence of photos on Facebook may have on an applicant’s good fame and character. The debate follows a recent flurry of reports in the media of employers asking for the username and password of potential employee’s Facebook accounts as part of a virtual ‘background check’. In turn, Facebook has advised its members not to disclose such information. The student’s question was therefore quite topical: if employers are interested in what is on a potential employee’s Facebook page, then surely the Legal Profession Admission Board might be, particularly given that many individuals have photos depicting events and other information available via that social networking site that may ultimately negate their ‘good fame and character’?

Public embarrassment from Facebook photos is not a new phenomenon; Australia’s ‘public figures’ have in the past had photos posted either by themselves or their ‘Facebook friends’ published in the media. In 2008 a number of provocative photos of Olympic gold medallist Stephanie Rice that appeared on Facebook were subsequently published in a number of Australia’s major newspapers, tarnishing both the public ‘golden girl’ image of Rice and also her then-boyfriend, fellow Olympic swimmer Eamon Sullivan. Rice’s subsequent 2010 experiences with Twitter, which culminated in a teary press conference where she publicly apologised for her offensive tweet, further indicate the damage that an over-exuberant use of social media can cause.

Yet it is becoming difficult to avoid social networking if students want to keep informed about events going on in law schools, universities and law firms, with an increasing number of public and private organisations either creating Facebook pages or Twitter feeds to notify interested parties of news, legal updates and events. In England the UK Supreme Court has an official Twitter feed where the release of decisions are posted, questions answered and job opportunities with the court listed. Indeed, it is likely that, with the greater proliferation of both Generation Y and the ‘digital generation’ into the workforce, this trend will both continue and grow. Thus, on the one hand, social networks are a valuable source of information for students, but on the other, they have become areas where students may not use these sites for their primary purpose – ‘networking’ and connecting with friends – for fear that their activities may be accessed by potential employers or ultimately affect admission to legal practice.

It appears that today’s students must find a balance between a fleeting moment that may have affected their ‘good fame and character’ and the permanent digital capture of that moment on Facebook. In any event, we may be moving towards a system where potential solicitors have to disclose what is on their Facebook pages.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Most Secure SmartPhone?

Alana Maurushat and David Frew

With each new technological development or release of a new product comes the often-not-thought-about question, “Is this technology secure?” Most of us are quick to notice the price then we dive straight into the fascinating world of “what new things does my new gadget do?” Companies rush to deliver products jam packed with applications and attributes in order to meet the Christmas rush. Security, while part of the process, does not play a significant role in hardware and software development. This begs the question, which smartphone is the most secure?

This is an easy question to answer – whatever smartphone has the least amount of market share. Why? Criminals are drawn to technologies with maximum customers. The black market exploits and targets the companies who dominate the market. Market research by the NPD Group, Inc. suggests that Microsoft smartphone operating system has the smallest share, accounting for 2% of smartphone sales since launch. Apple’s iPhone follows at 29% of the market with Google’s Android leading the market with 53% of the total market. Microsoft is the safest smartphone – in attracting the least attention of the black market – because it is the least popular.

Malicious applications are developing quickly to take advantage of the smartphone market. There are some security features of both the iPhone and Android that are worth considering. iPhone “apps” downloaded from the App Store must first be vetted by the Apple security team; though this process is by no means foolproof. Android, on the other hand, does not vet any of its apps, only removing insecure and malicious apps once they are discovered. This does not, however, mean that the iPhone as a base product is necessarily safer than the Android.

Most smartphones run on a 3G or 4G system. These systems were designed with some security in mind. The typical 3G network allows for User Equiptment (UE) to ensure the connection is to an intended network rather than an impersonator. There is also the use of a block cipher to ensure encryption of data. In most Australian cities there is excellent 3G and increasingly 4G coverage. In more remote areas, however, there is only 2G coverage. The 2G coverage is extremely insecure as it was not developed with any security mechanisms in place. This makes any smartphone running on a 2G network susceptible to message interception and all sorts of cybercrime. Most smartphones automatically will look for 2G coverage when no 3G or 4G is available. The Android allows the user to set its default so that it will not connect to 2G coverage if a 3G or 4G network is unavailable. The iPhone does not offer this setting. Thus the user cannot instruct an iPhone not to switch to 2G coverage which, in turn, may expose iPhone users to cybercrime.

In recent times, there has also been attention paid to the efforts of a variety of security experts in exposing alternative vulnerabilities of the Android system, though it would also be possible to exploid such vulnerabilities on Apple’s iOS. Though the Android security breach was extremely expensive (US$15,000 in software and development) it also relied upon the complete trust and lack of awareness of the greater smartphone-using population. Whilst Apple, Google and Microsoft will do everything in their power to protect their smartphones from unauthorised access, there is little they can do to prevent users from personally authorising malware. Ironically, this method of breach is both the most potent and the easiest to prevent as it simply involves educating users to be savvy when links are sent their phones via text, particularly from unrecognised numbers.

The jury is hung: both the iPhone and Android command control of the smartphone market and both have features which allow, if not altogether encourage, cybercrime. So if safety is your ultimate concern, head for the Microsoft smartphone.

Image by William Hook, made available by Creative Commons licence via Flickr.