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Why Law Enforcement Agencies Are Outmatched By Cyber Criminal Syndicates

November 2, 2014  |  Posted by: Giovanni DePhillips
Why Law Enforcement Agencies Are Outmatched By Cyber Criminal Syndicates Image courtesy of gizmodo.com

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Criminals now don’t need a firearm to knock off a bank or have to sift through garbage to steal someone’s identity.

Cybercrime has become a detriment to the global economy, hitting the global economy for a staggering $400 billion a year.

As that number increases, so does the spectrum of sophistication of the cyber criminals. Law enforcement has been behind, playing catch up to the scale of sophistication.

With constant new trends in cybercrime emerging all the time, costing the global economy billions of dollars, the Secret Service and law enforcement agencies around the world find themselves out matched.

According to Interpol, in the past, cyber crime was committed mainly by individuals or small groups. Today, we are seeing criminal organizations working with criminally minded technology professionals to commit cybercrime, often to fund other illegal activities.

The Internet gives these criminal organizations new ways to commit old crimes such as theft, fraud, illegal gambling, sale of fake medicines – but they are evolving in line with the opportunities presented online and therefore becoming more widespread and damaging.

These syndicates are treating cybercrime like a business. They in essence form global criminal communities, sharing strategies, tools and even launching joint operational attacks.

With such a high complexity, the cyber criminal networks are able to team together individuals from across the globe in real time to commit crimes on an unprecedented scale, maximizing their profits in the shortest period of time.
CNN reported that the U.S. secret service did help prevent over $1 billion in fraud losses from Cyber Crime last year, but even with it’s large allocated federal budget it has at it’s disposal to combat Cyber Criminals, they are still over matched.

Ed Lowery, is a special agent at the U.S. Secret Service Investigative Division, admits that the criminals have become very sophisticated in their scope of operations, which extends Worldwide.

“What we’ve seen develop over the last 10 to 15 years has been cartel-like behavior from individuals who … have developed a very, very intricate criminal conspiracy or criminal consortium to commit crimes against assets of the United States, exfiltrate data and then monetize that data around the world,” Lowery told CNN.

The U.S. are are also targeted by hackers who work for foreign government regimes, The two biggest being China and Russia, which is a constant cause of political tension.

Lowery says that our level of expertise has increased by dealing with the Cyber hackers from East Europe and Russian. “Over the course of the last decade it’s become very apparent that those individuals are the highest caliber, the most prolific and probably the most damaging cyber criminals that are out there.

Why is Cyber Crime Hard to Crack Down On?

The task of cracking down on cybercriminals is extremely difficult because the Internet makes it easier for them to conduct their activities anonymously and from any location on the globe.

Usually computers often used in cyber attacks have actually been hacked and are being controlled from a remote location by someone far away.

Another roadblock is the fact that crime laws vary from country to country making it very complicated, especially when many hackers launch attacks from countries where the U.S. and international law enforcement does not have the same level of cooperation.

Rob Wainwright, the director of European law enforcement agency Europol, agrees, telling CNN, “It’s fine for the U.S. and Europe to work together, however a lot of cybercriminals work is in parts of the world where cooperation with the West is poor”. he says.

Based in the Netherlands, Europol is heading up Europe’s cyber policing, which is their Cyber Crime center of operations, which opened in January 2013.
The center is the focal point for gathering information and developing new technology to detect and prosecute cybercrime.

However more needs to be done to address what is a truly global problem, according to Wainwright.

“We need to up our game in terms of developing our digital forensics skills, and certainly in terms of our international coordination,” he says. “Here at Europol we’ve succeeded in bringing together some of the major agencies across the globe, including those in the United States, to help us fight the biggest syndicates here, but we need much greater international cooperation.”

One way that agencies can prosecute more cyber criminals is by having one set of laws for everyone on the Internet.

“There’s one other thing that’s very important here and that’s making sure that we have an up-to-date and modern legislative framework that can allow us to fight criminals online in the same way that police fight criminals in the real world,” says Wainwright.

“At the moment the legislation which allows us, for example, to detect the criminals online and allows us to decrypt the way in which they’re working, is pretty deficient, actually, and certainly not aligned across different jurisdictions.”

But the biggest challenge aside from the different sets of international laws is the shortage of talent that law enforcement has at it’s disposal, people with the right cyber skillset.

“This is obviously a unique skillset and it takes years to develop that skillset,” says Lowery.
But even in this world of high-tech criminality matched by high-tech policing, old-fashioned investigative skills still have their part to play.

“You need a very highly skilled cadre, you still need to be able to develop evidence that will stand up in a court of law,” says Lowery. ”

The best option for the international agencies to combat these organizations is to turn “Black Hat” hackers into “White Hat” hackers.

Some Hackers, who used to use their skill set to break into systems, now get paid by large corporations to hack into their security systems in order to recognize any lapses in security that could lead to a breach and accesses options as to how to fix the problems.

In order to combat these complex organizations, the U.S. will need people just as talented, but who also understands the world of the cyber criminal and can match Cyber Syndicates in sophistication.

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