Police vs cartels in the high-tech battle to stop cybercrime

Law enforcement's cybercrime challenge
Law enforcement's cybercrime challenge

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Law enforcement's cybercrime challenge 02:53

Story highlights

  • Law enforcement goes high-tech to keep up with criminals
  • More international co-operation needed to tackle borderless crime
  • Cybercrime costs the global economy an estimated $400 billion a year
Cybercrime costs the global economy an estimated $400 billion a year, and as it grows in scale and sophistication, law enforcement is having to do the same.
The U.S. secret service helped prevent over $1 billion in fraud losses from cybercrime last year, but it is up against skilled and organized international crime networks.
Ed Lowery, a special agent at the U.S. Secret Service Investigative Division, has witnessed the criminals becoming increasingly sophisticated. "What we've seen develop over the last 10 to 15 years has been cartel behavior from individuals who ... have developed a very, very intricate criminal conspiracy or criminal consortium to commit crimes against assets of the United States, ex-filtrate data and then monetize that data around the world," he says.
With hackers driven by a desire to make a fast buck, or by political motives, cybercrime and geopolitical tension often go hand in hand. Whether it is China or Russia, this is a major challenge for law enforcement.
"We've developed our expertise dealing with the East European, Russian-language speaking cyber criminals," says Lowery. "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.
"They are operating from many places 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. "It's fine for the U.S. and Europe to work together, but where a lot of cybercriminals work, according to the community themselves, is in other parts of the world where relations are much more tense with the West," he says.
From its base in the Netherlands, Europol is spearheading Europe's cyber policing. Its Cybercrime Center, which opened in January 2013, aims to be a focal point for gathering data and developing tools to detect and prosecute cybercrime. But much more needs to be done to tackle what has become 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."
The world of 'hackonomics'
The world of 'hackonomics'

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The world of 'hackonomics' 02:54
He adds: "It's not the first time, of course, that certain geopolitical circumstances can impede the way in which we can operate against criminal terrorist groups. That's a fact of life and it's something we rely on our political leaders to deal with, and it's important we establish effective police-to-police channels of cooperation."
One way that policing can stay ahead is through consistency -- one set of laws for everyone who uses 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."
The challenge for policing isn't just at the macro level of international co-operation and legal frameworks; a shortage of law enforcement officers with the right expertise in specialized cyber skills is still a problem.
"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. "We have to be sure that the individual that we are going to charge with that crime is absolutely the individual that committed the crime. To do that takes a lot of old-school detective work."