Cybercrime is the use of the Internet as a means to commit illegal activity. This includes hacking, stealing intellectual property, the non-delivery of goods or services, economic or political espionage, extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.
Rapidly evolving cybercrime techniques pose an increasingly critical obstacle to policing around the world. In this blog article, we identify the three most important challenges faced by law enforcement when investigating and cracking down on cybercrime.
There are advantages to online anonymity: people governed by authoritarian states can more easily express themselves online, when doing so in real life would endanger their life and liberty. An anonymous profile also allows people to protect their personal identity or avoid targeted harassment.
However, online anonymity has also become somewhat of a dark matrix: a virtual parallel universe that is a breeding ground for individuals and organizations with criminal intent. This is not new. Since the advent of the Internet, many people have used their online anonymity to commit indefensible acts like terrorism, child pornography, fraud, or money laundering.
Online criminals often exploit software tools and the Internet’s global communication systems to associate in virtual communities that hide their identities in order to commit illicit activities.
Cybercriminals use anonymous proxy servers that mask their IP addresses by substituting them with different ones. Proxies are often referred to as “intermediaries” since they exist between end-users and any website they may be visiting. Proxies are useful for data protection and privacy, but they also make it difficult to find out who is responsible for a crime.
One case that received significant international attention was that of Max Butler, who used the alias ‘Iceman’ to steal almost two million credit card numbers. ‘Iceman’ sought attention by bragging about his crimes online while doing his best to keep his real identity hidden. After he was captured, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2010.
Lack of international cooperation
The Internet knows no national borders and, while global interconnectedness has contributed to tremendous social progress and technological innovation, it has also provided those looking to commit criminal activity with tools to further their criminal pursuits.
Cybercrime can also be more large-scale and organized, rising to the level of state-sponsored and non-state cyberwarfare. This involves the use of digital tools to attack the vital computer systems of entire countries, along with the critical infrastructure that they support.
These security threats can affect individuals, governments, corporations, and other organizations, making the need for cooperation clear. Not only do governments need to work together, but public-private partnerships are essential as the private sector owns about 90% of cyberspace.
Governments have a basic responsibility to crack down on crime and prevent it from occurring. They also have a responsibility to set standards and best practices for cybersecurity, including testing and certification. A positive development has been the increasing cooperation between the FBI and INTERPOL, the organization that promotes collaboration between police forces around the world.
As the private sector produces increasingly advanced cybersecurity products, it also has a responsibility to cooperate with governments to promote security and privacy for all.
Loss of location
Data is the key element of cybercrime. And the fact that data travels instantaneously across national borders means that, when cybercrime is committed, it is often difficult to know which country has jurisdiction and which laws are applicable.
In recent years, there has been an exponential increase in the use of cloud computing: when data is held less and less on particular devices, and increasingly distributed over different services, providers and locations.
This has caused many challenges for authorities who try to determine where any given set of data is located. Consequently, it becomes difficult to know not just what crime has occurred, but also who the relevant authorities are and what tools they have to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Cybercrime will continue to evolve as a result of vulnerabilities in either existing or emerging technology.
This means law enforcement must not just look to the future to predict vulnerabilities in new technology, like artificial intelligence, but also focus now on preventing cybercrime and raising social awareness of cybersecurity.
To begin doing this, law enforcement agencies must ask themselves how they can help address the three challenges laid out in this article, before taking action to ensure everyone’s safety online.