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SCARS™ Special Report: Fighting Cybercriminals In A Connected Future World
Insights From The Europol-INTERPOL Cybercrime Conference Examined Latest Cyber Threats, Trends And Strategies At The Hague, Netherlands 2019
A couple of months back, more than 400 experts from law enforcement, the private sector, and academia have gathered this week at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague for what is one of the world’s biggest platforms of exchange on cybercrime.
Under the theme of ‘Law enforcement in a connected future’, the 7th Europol-INTERPOL Cybercrime Conference looked at ways how to effectively combine the expertise, resources, and insights of law enforcement, the private sector, and academia to make the internet a more secure environment, especially in a society, which is becoming increasingly dependent on digital capabilities.
Over the course of three days (9-11 October), 50 experts elaborated on the most pressing cyber threats of today and tomorrow. Key themes included the benefits and challenges of Artificial Intelligence for police; the potential impacts of 5G technology; cross-border access to electronic evidence; obstacles to international cooperation on cybercrime investigations; the importance of cyber capacity building; cryptocurrency trends and challenges; the use of open-source intelligence and privacy considerations.
This year, speakers included the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, Ms. Amy S. Hess and the General Manager of Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, Ms. Amy Hogan-Burney, both of whom delivered keynote speeches on the threats perceived by their respective communities. Another international speaker was Mr Cyrus Roberts VANCE Jr., the incumbent District Attorney of New York County, who spoke on the impact of encryption on criminal investigations.
As highlighted in Europol’s 2019 Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) presented at this conference, cybercriminals continue to become more audacious, shifting their approach away from scattered to more focused, carefully crafted attacks against larger, more profitable targets with the potential for ominously greater damage and major disruptions.
This year’s conference saw the participation of over 100 organizations and more than 70 different law enforcement agencies engaging in fruitful and solution-oriented discussions on how to tackle the challenges at hand head-on in a collective manner.
Conclusions Emphasized A Need For Even Closer Cooperation In The Areas Of:
- Business Email Compromise (BEC): while BEC is not new, it is evolving, causing increasing economic damage. BEC exploits the way corporations do business, taking advantage of segregated corporate structures, and internal gaps in payment verification processes.
- Scams: Greater cooperation in transnational cyber-enabled crimes, such as scams.
- Terrorism: continued close examination of the interactions between cybercrime and terrorist organizations.
- Dark web: as the dark web evolves, it has become a threat in its own right, and not only as a medium for the sale of illicit commodities such as drugs, firearms or compromised data. The impact of law enforcement action in this arena is palpable as the environment remains in a state of flux.
- Research & Development: Technology develops at an ever-increasing pace, creating new challenges and opportunities for law enforcement. Adding to this the data volume challenge, legal challenges and a constantly expanding threat surface, there is a need for research and development to develop solutions addressing the needs of law enforcement in an efficient and agile way.
- Innovation: The incorporation of innovation, as part of an effective crime response, is not exclusively a private sector affair. Europol and INTERPOL already cooperate with industry partners and academia to identify challenges and opportunities for law enforcement arising from new and emerging technologies, such as 5G.
Mr. Steven WILSON, Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), said: “Three days of conference with partners from law enforcement, industry and academia have shown what we can achieve when we work closely together to tackle the global issue of cybercrime. We must make progress in prevention, legislation, enforcement, and prosecution. All of these elements are necessary in order to disrupt organized crime activity and reduce the online threat to businesses, governments, and, above all, EU citizens. I look forward to building on our trusted relationships to deliver an improved international response to this ever-increasing challenge.”
With cybercriminals constantly evolving and transforming their tactics, INTERPOL’s Director of Cybercrime Craig JONES said the traditional model of policing is ‘being challenged like never before’. “The cybercriminal world is agile and adapting, connecting and cooperating in ways we never imagined even just a few years ago,” said Mr. JONES. “Law enforcement must adapt to this ever-changing criminal environment in order to effectively protect our communities in the cyber domain,” he concluded.
On the occasion of this conference, Europol also launched CRYPTOPOL, Europol’s first-ever cryptocurrency-tracing training software, developed and co-created in close cooperation with CENTRIC (Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime Research). CRYPTOPOL is a simulator of a cryptocurrency investigation with an emphasis on hands-on practice using real-life situations. CRYPTOPOL is accessible to all law enforcement cryptocurrency investigators around the world who can contact Europol to request access to the software for training purposes. As the software contains information about tracing techniques used by law enforcement there is no intention of making it publicly available.
Unfortunately, there was insufficient focus on the impact on individual victims. However, with the presence of SCARS, providing the victims’ perspective, we can expect greater attention in future conferences.
The Europol-INTERPOL Cybercrime Conference is a joint initiative launched in 2013 is held annually, it is hosted in alternate years by Europol and INTERPOL.
Europol Definition of Cybercrime
Technical innovation can be harnessed for social good, but just as readily for nefarious ends. This is truer of cybercrime than of perhaps any other crime area. And cybercriminals are also getting more aggressive. That’s why Europol and its partner organizations are taking the fight to them on all fronts.
According to the most recent Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) , cybercrime is becoming more aggressive and confrontational. This can be seen across the various forms of cybercrime, including high-tech crimes, data breaches and sexual extortion.
Cybercrime is a growing problem for countries, such as EU Member States, in most of which internet infrastructure is well developed and payment systems are online.
But it is not just financial data, but data more generally, that is a key target for cybercriminals. The number and frequency of data breaches are on the rise, and this, in turn, is leading to more cases of fraud and extortion.
The sheer range of opportunities that cybercriminals have sought to exploit is impressive. These crimes include:
- using botnets—networks of devices infected with malware without their users’ knowledge—to transmit viruses that gain illicit remote control of the devices, steal passwords and disable antivirus protection;
- creating “back doors” on compromised devices to allow the theft of money and data, or remote access to the devices to create botnets;
- creating online fora to trade hacking expertise;
- bulletproof hosting and creating counter-anti-virus services;
- laundering traditional and virtual currencies;
- committing online fraud, such as through online payment systems, carding and social engineering;
- various forms of online child sexual exploitation, including the distribution online of child sex-abuse materials and the live-streaming of child sexual abuse
- the online hosting of operations involving the sale of weapons, false passports, counterfeit and cloned credit cards, and drugs, and hacking services.
Malware, or malicious software, inﬁltrates and gains control over a computer system or a mobile device to steal valuable information or damage data. There are many types of malware, and they can complement each other when performing an attack.
- A botnet (short for robot network) is made up of computers communicating with each other over the internet. A command and control center uses them to send spam, mount distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks (see below) and commit other crimes.
- A rootkit is a collection of programs that enable administrator-level access to a computer or computer network, thus allowing the attacker to gain root or privileged access to the computer and possibly other machines on the same network.
- A worm replicates itself over a computer network and performs malicious actions without guidance.
- A trojan poses as or is embedded within, a legitimate program, but it is designed for malicious purposes, such as spying, stealing data, deleting ﬁles, expanding a botnet, and performing DDoS attacks.
- A file infector infects executable files (such as .exe) by overwriting them or inserting infected code that disables them.
- A backdoor/remote-access trojan (RAT) accesses a computer system or mobile device remotely. It can be installed by another piece of malware. It gives almost total control to the attacker, who can perform a wide range of actions, including:
- monitoring actions
- executing commands
- sending files and documents back to the attacker
- logging keystrokes
- taking screenshots
- Ransomware stops users from accessing their devices and demands that they pay a ransom through certain online payment methods to regain access. A variant, police ransomware, uses law enforcement symbols to lend authority to the ransom message.
- Scareware is a fake anti-virus software that pretends to scan and find malware/security threats on a user’s device so that they will pay to have it removed.
- Spyware is installed on a computer without its owner’s knowledge to monitor their activity and transmit the information to a third party
- Adware displays advertising banners or pop-ups that include code to track the user’s behavior on the internet
The Response: Pursuing Cybercriminals On All Fronts
With such a range of activities being pursued with such inventiveness, the response of Europol and its partners must itself be comprehensive, dynamic and relentlessly innovative. And it is.
First, there’s the institutional response. In 2013 Europol set up the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to bolster the response of law enforcement to cybercrime in the EU and help protect European citizens, businesses and governments.
Each year the EC3 issues the aforementioned Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA), which sets priorities for the EMPACT Operational Action Plan in the areas of cybercrime that are the focus for that year.
The EC3 also hosts the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT). Its mission is to drive intelligence-led, coordinated action against key cybercrime threats through cross-border investigations and operations by its partners.
These institutional arrangements have led to notable successes at the operational level, including:
- the coordination of a joint operation, including private-sector partners to target a botnet, Ramnit, that had infected millions of computers around the world;
- coordination with EUROJUST in an operation targeting large-scale malware attacks that originated in Ukraine and that were being investigated by a number of agencies — an operation that led to tens of arrests and continues to supply evidence that supports other cybercrime investigations;
- an operation targeting a major cybercriminal forum engaged in trading hacking expertise, malware and botnets, Zero Day Exploits, access to compromised servers, and matching partners for spam campaigns and malware attacks.
Europol separates cybercrimes from cyber-enabled crimes – such as scams, extortion, harassment, and cyberbullying and addresses these separately.
However, significant side discussions were held to address cyber-enabled crimes and approaches to victims’ assistance.
SCARS is an affiliate of Europol in its educational initiatives to address cybercrime and cyber-enabled crime awareness and victims’ assistance and support. SCARS is also an affiliated organization with the Council of Europe on cybercrime initiatives.
EUROPOL is a body of the European Union.
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