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Share trading accounts at some of Australia's largest brokers have been hacked by a Russian gang

Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images

Russian hackers have been detected trying to rip cash from online share trading accounts at some of Australia’s biggest brokers, including Morgan Stanley and Commsec.

A joint operation by the corporate watchdog ASIC and the Australian Federal Police, dubbed Operation Emerald, has been investigating internet hacking, market manipulation and money laundering operations involving an overseas account traded through Morgan Stanley Australia Securities.

The suspicious trades between August and October were detected by ASIC’s surveillance team and immediate action was taken with the assistance of Morgan Stanley to stop the profits disappearing. Today the Supreme Court of NSW ordered $77,000 be restrained following an application by ASIC.

ASIC’s surveillance systems also detected unauthorised trades by a suspected Russian hacker who got into a number of retail accounts at Commonwealth Securities, Etrade Australia and Australian Investment Exchange Limited.

This is how the hacking worked:

  • The scammers set up an account with a large investment bank in Europe. They then buy a lot of penny dreadful shares, the cheaper the better, at a fraction of a cent each.
  • Now they’re ready to hack an account in Australia. Once they’re in, they sell all the shares in the Australian account, building a large cash balance.
  • They then use that money to buy, at an inflated prices, the cheap shares in the account in Europe, effectively moving cash from Australia.

ASIC and the AFP have acknowledged the assistance of Morgan Stanley, Commonwealth Securities Limited, Etrade Australia and Australian Investment Exchange Limited.

Breaches of market manipulation provisions in the Corporations Act 2001 carry penalties of up to 10 years jail.

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