Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has referred a Telegram account to the police after contacts of the senior government politician began receiving messages from an account using his name.
On Sunday evening, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) told the Australian’s Sharri Markson and Olivia Caisley that it was investigating a “messaging scam” involving Birmingham.
The messages were sent via the Telegram platform, a Russian messaging service that allows communication using end-to-end encryption.
“The scam appears to be in the form of a message for an associate … (the request) may be an attempt to obtain information from the user or their device,” a spokesperson for the AFP said.
Telegram messages were sent from a number belonging to Birmingham to contacts in the Australian politician’s contact list. The messages asked recipients about “a Chinese person living here” and signalled they wanted to know about “about the situation in China or Hong Kong”.
The minister’s office said that Birmingham did not have a Telegram account and claimed that he had followed the “appropriate security steps” to secure his phone.
What the Minister’s office is trying to make clear is that his phone (and any sensitive information contained within) has not been compromised.
There are still questions about how whoever is impersonating this Australian politician was able to create an account on Telegram, which requires SMS verification to associate a phone number with an account.
Techniques like sim-jacking would allow a hacker to take over someone’s phone number — allowing them to ‘verify’ the phone number — without ever having physical access to a phone.
It doesn’t explain how this impersonator was then able to message people in Birmingham’s contact book — numbers that are presumably only known to a few people.
None of these facts by themselves mean that Birmingham’s claims are untrue. But taken together, the saga of the faux Australian politician on Telegram is certainly a curious one.
The Minister’s office has been approached for comment.