Law-enforcement authorities must increasingly partner with private-sector security researchers to combat increasingly flexible, malevolent and global security interests on their home turf, an INTERPOL cybersecurity specialist has warned.
Despite their longstanding nous around investigation of criminal activities, INTERPOL project manager for cyber innovation and outreach Steve Honiss told CSO Australia that the rapidly changing face of cybercriminal activity had pushed authorities to tap academic expertise for initiatives such as a recently developed program for training law-enforcement investigators in the mechanisms of the 'dark Web' favoured by many criminals.
As highlighted in a recent Australian Crime Commission report into the changing face of organised crime in this country, cybercriminal activity was no longer characterised by online-only attacks from rogue hackers.
Rather, established criminal elements were increasingly challenging conventional enforcement structures with transnational malware activities and the use of cryptocurrencies that defy mechanisms for tracking physical currency movements.
Many organised-crime gangs were so sophisticated, the report found, that they were building teams of skilled IT staff to help machinate their illegal activities as efficiently as possible.
“The only way to properly address this is by partnering with industry, the academic community, researchers from thinktanks, and law enforcement departments,” Honiss – a New Zealand Police expert who formerly managed that country's National Cybercrime Centre (NC3), is on secondment to the Singapore-based INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) and spoke at Trend Micro's recent Cybercrime 2015 event in Melbourne.
Honiss's role at INTERPOL involves engaging with member countries to review their cybercrime response through the National Cyber Review programme – and, he said, the collaboration was already improving trans-national collaboration as a result.
A recent meeting in Singapore, for example, saw more than 50 security experts from various public and private-sector security experts workshopping key security research priorities.
“Everyone sees a different piece of the cybercrime pie,” he said, “and when we bring those together it becomes quite a powerful union of the experts. By identifying priorities and points of convergence, we can help focus our efforts over the next few years.”
The dark-web training represents a “tangible outcome” of that cooperation, which has also seen a concerted effort to educate researchers about the workings of Bitcoin and its relationship to already well-developed money-laundering schemes.
“It's actually very hard to move large amounts of cash physically without being detected,” Honiss said, “even across borders. But it can be done with the click of a button using virtual currencies.”
Retraining street police
For INTERPOL, a significant part of the education process has come in building that training into everyday investigations. This would be essential in bringing cybercrime considerations out of the dark corners of the police force and making it a part of everyday investigations.
Honiss likened the change to that undergone several decades ago, when investigators would immediately call in the specialised drug squad when an investigation showed suggestions that drugs were involved.
In a similar way, better understanding of cybercrime would, for example, teach field officers that a range of evidence – well beyond phone records and SMS messages – may be extracted from seized mobile phones as it may come from conventional fingerprinting, financial auditing or other investigation techniques.
“Nowadays they're doing these sorts of [drugs investigations] all the time because it's part of their basic training,” he explained, noting that INTERPOL was already working to standardise cybercrime training and develop minimum competencies for investigators.
“That's where we need to move to with cybercrime,” he continued. “So many crime types have a technological aspect with them that needs to become part of every cop's toolbox. You don't need to know how it's done, but [digital evidence] should be part of the things that we consider when analysing a crime scene.”
Individual organisations also needed to play an increasing role in this process by building internal capabilities that pushed information-security concerns across the business organisations – particularly in response to the higher profile of security attacks in the mainstream.
“The publicity around state sponsored activity has heightened public awareness and heightened concerns in the industry, particularly those with valuable intellectual property,” Honiss said.
“This has made people look a lot closer at their security practices and policies, and how to best protect their valuable data against any form of attack, wherever it's coming from.”
“There are still a lot of company boards that don't truly appreciate the risks they are facing, so anything that gets conversations going about this, makes me think that's good. It's going to take some years before it becomes truly mainstream, but we're heading in the right direction.”
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