Internet Cafe Accused of ‘Social’ Hacking

A popular Internet cafe is being accused of stealing Internet time, allowing it to charge lower rates than its competition.

The owners of 3-month-old Khmer Web on Sihanouk Boule­vard, which fueled a price war by dropping its rates to $4 an hour at one point, had claimed their low rates were possible because they were housed in a building owned by a relative who did not charge them rent.

People in the business are now alleging, however, that Khmer Web wasn’t paying for Internet time either, instead gaining ac­cess by using passwords and user names for accounts that did not belong to them.

Bill Herod, an adviser to the Internet service KIDS where several of the Khmer Web staff formerly worked, sent out an e-mail Friday night claiming that his personal Internet account had been billed for nearly 500 hours and that Khmer Web was re­sponsible.

“I was in the States in August for several weeks, and when I got back I got my CamNet Internet bill. At that time, roughly 250 hours had been used. That was the first alert,” Herod said in an interview Monday.

He said he attempted to change his password only to discover that his account was in use by someone else. The next bill arrived a couple weeks later with another 250 hours charged for a total of 500 hours, or $2,500.

Kim San, one of three owners of Khmer Web, refused to comment, despite repeated requests. Staff of the Khmer Web shop also refused to answer any questions.

Koy Kim Sea, undersecretary of state of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and general manager of CamNet, confirmed Monday that Khmer Web was being investigated and added that he believed the business had attempted to steal Internet time. “We want them to pay for it,” he said.

The undersecretary added that a meeting has been scheduled for this morning with Herod, the owners of Khmer Web and several ministry officials in order to settle the matter.

Experts say this is not a case of technical hacking but rather social hacking. Herod admits he revealed his password to a friend and says he believes that is how his account password was stolen.

“No one broke into CamNet,” said David Lewis, manager of Telstra Bigpond, a commercial Internet service provider, al­though he refused to speak specifically about the Khmer Web case. “Customers should treat their password as cash and change it frequently.”

Koy Kim Sea declined to detail the investigation but according to Herod, CamNet narrowed the list of suspects to the few establishments in Cambodia that would use the Internet continuously for 14 hours a day, checked phone records and correlated them with the times that his account was accessed.

“Khmer Web was by far the most suspicious because of the price,” Herod said. “We checked their phone records, and it was pages and pages of calls to CamNet. They don’t have a Cam­Net account.”

Three or four other CamNet accounts with excessively high charges also are being looked at, Herod said.

Khmer Web currently is charging $5 an hour for Internet use accompanied by a constant stream of free tea and sweets. KIDS charges $6 an hour.

“You can afford a lot when you don’t have to pay for your Inter­net connection….” Herod said. He advocated that the ministry adopt strict licensing procedures for Internet cafes and that cafes keep records of the Internet and phone use for inspection to prevent future fraud.

The allegation against Khmer Web has been particularly disappointing for those who remain with KIDS and who had regarded those who left to start Khmer Web as friends.

“[We] used to be [friends],” said Kea Kunthea, one of KIDS’ directors.

Herod sighed with disappointment, adding that the person he believes responsible was at one time a “valued, prized employee.”

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.