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Law Enforcement Partnerships Enhance Cybercrime Investigations

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Chelsea Binns
April 4, 2017

Collaboration is an important element of successful police work. Law enforcement routinely works with its citizens, and one another, to fight crime. The proliferation of cybercrime has brought a renewed interest in law enforcement partnerships with the private sector. These collaborations have facilitated the sharing of information and resources to enhance investigations. Recent cases demonstrate their value.

Cybercrime is now one of our biggest threats in society. Cybercrime is expected to cost $6 trillion in damages globally by 2021. This growth is attributed in part to an increase in “organized crime gang hacking activities.” Recent schemes demonstrate today’s cybercriminals are working in large groups across the globe to perpetuate their crimes. Thus, law enforcement is joining forces with the private sector to augment and extend their investigative power.

One example is The Department of Homeland Security’s Information Network (HSIN). The HSIN, created ten years ago, provides a way for law enforcement to “collaborate securely with partners across geographic and jurisdictional boundaries.” It now connects 18,000 law enforcement, 60,000 responding agencies and 78 fusion centers. In 2015, the HSIN expanded their network to include “private sector stakeholders” and “infrastructure owners, emergency managers and cybersecurity experts.”

Recent cases demonstrate the value of such collaborations. In November 2016, an investigative team solved a major cybercrime resulting in 178 arrests. In this case, 580 “money mules” caused losses of EUR 23 million (approx. $24 million USD). The team, the European Money Mule Action, (EMMA) joined law enforcement from 17 countries and two federal agencies, with 106 banks and private partners. This partnership allowed law enforcement to share data and other intelligence in a coordinated operation. The EMMA has built on their success by adding more partners in the private sector. They have also launched an awareness campaign to prevent future cybercrimes.

cyber-security-1186530_640 (1)Private sector partnerships add critical value to cybercrime investigations. In fact, experts say it’s “impossible” to effectively address cybercrime without the two parties working together. The private sector has an important role in the prevention and detection of cybercrime. It owns and operates 85 percent of all critical infrastructures, and often is the “first line of defense” against potential threats. Law enforcement also benefits from the additional crime-fighting resources the private sector provides. This assistance can be especially useful, due to the void of Information Technology-related talent in the government sector.

European law enforcement, which reports a “relentless growth of cybercrime” is capitalizing on private sector resources. They find cybercrime is becoming increasingly professionalized, because of strong financial and operational support from organized crime groups. Comparatively, their law enforcement is “under-resourced.” For them, collaborating with the private sector is a “smarter approach” which provides them with the tools they need to ensure a successful investigation.

Law enforcement in New Zealand is currently leveraging resources in academia to combat their cybercrime problem. Specifically, police are collaborating with researchers at Waikato University, to benefit from their expertise in computer science, data mining and software engineering. In 2015, New Zealand was subjected to 8570 cyber-attacks, costing an estimated $13.4 million.

Partnerships also help foster the flow of information. There is an unfortunate history of information gaps between the government and the private sector, which can provide opportunity for cybercriminals. For instance, in 2014, Google located a serious, national security vulnerability, that “allowed attackers to steal encrypted information, including passwords, cookies and data.” It was later learned this flaw had been previously discovered by the National Security Agency (NSA) years earlier, yet Google didn’t know it, because the two parties did not collaborate.

There are many exciting partnerships currently underway to combat cybercrime threats. The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division in Colorado recently created a new Cybercrime and National Security Section, which aims to work with private industry towards cybercrime prevention. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Air Force have all recently established a presence in Silicon Valley, to foster cyber security collaboration with technology firms.

While there are many benefits to these alliances, there are also challenges. Organizational politics, culture and bureaucracy have served as roadblocks to past collaborative efforts.

Silicon Valley and the federal government are one alliance facing such challenges. Their cultures clash. Silicon Valley’s organizational structure is lean and quick, while the federal government is comparatively large and slow. Regardless, although keenly aware of the “burden of Federal bureaucracy,” Silicon Valley technology firms typically “downplay[] these concerns”. They view “government work as an exciting and fulfilling way to defend the U.S. in cyberspace.” Their positive experience may inspire other private firms to forge the same battle.

Experts have also suggested offering incentives to the private sector to partner with government. For instance, Retired NSA Director General Keith Alexander suggests providing tax incentives to private companies to develop robust cyber security programs and share their findings with the government.

Overall, incentive or no incentive, it is clear the public and private sectors are forming successful strategic partnerships. It is a worthwhile trend that will hopefully continue to flourish and add value to global cybercrime investigations.

Author: Chelsea A. Binns, PhD; Assistant Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and Homeland Security, St. John’s University [email protected]

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