Cyber crime is a global problem. It's only fitting, therefore, that the fight against it be global too. But though having a unified global front in the fight against cyber crime is the ideal situation for actually keeping hackers at bay, it's also a dubious proposition, since it calls for a huge degree of cooperation among different nations. Pushing toward collaboration in terms of global cybersecurity, for that reason, will be no easy feat. But it's an effort that must be undertaken, since the international threats posed by virtual criminals are only on the rise.
The global nature of cyber crime
Evgeniy Bogachev lived and worked in Russia, but the consequences of his criminal actions extended well beyond his homeland. By developing a malicious program called GameOver Zeus (GOZ), Bogachev was able to unleash a one-man army of international virtual attacks. All it takes is one look at a global map of the regions impacted by GOZ to understand the international impact of Bogachev's crimes.
"Bogachev and his criminal network implemented the kind of cyber crimes that you might not believe if you saw them in a science fiction movie," a lawyer associated with the case against Bogachev stated.
In fact, there wasn't a single continent that was able to dodge Bogachev's reach. Yet today, Bogachev remains well beyond the reach of authorities, who have been pursuing him for a long time without much to show for it. The most recent news about the hunt for Bogachev was that the FBI had raised its reward for information leading to his capture from $3 million to $4.2 million. That may seem like a lot of money – and in fact it's the largest reward associated with a single hacker – but it's only a fraction of the roughly $100 million in losses that Bogachev and his malicious strains are responsible for. In the fight against cyber crime, he is enemy number one.
A look at Bogachev and his criminal exploits provides a much-needed illustration of the truly global nature of cyber crime today. As a criminal, Bogachev wasn't bold and attention-seeking. Instead, he was quiet and stealthy. As The Telegraph pointed out, many of his victims didn't even realize he'd hit until their banks accounts were emptied. In this way, he was quietly able to rack up a personal fortune from his crimes without facing any consequences. But it's not just his stealth alone that has enabled him to not answer for his crimes. It's also the fact that there's not a unified effort to bring him to justice.
Different countries + difference defensive strategies = challenges
As far as U.S.-based law enforcement goes, the FBI is making the capture of Bogachev cyber crime priority number one. The problem, however, is that Russian law enforcement is not pursuing Bogachev with the same sense of urgency. In fact, as The Telegraph reported, Russia doesn't seem to be involved in the hunt for Bogachev at all. When you're an international fugitive from justice looking to hide out, hearing that your home country is more or less indifferent to your capture is great news. For Bogachev, experts say that the indifference within Russian law enforcement toward nabbing him has likely given him much more freedom in terms of hiding out. And there's another issue: Even if one of the many agencies in pursuit of him does end up capturing him, they will confront a road block as far as Russian law, which doesn't allows its citizens to be extradited. So in the event that law enforcement officials do stumble upon him, that will only be the beginning of a new challenge. In this case, the wheels of justice promise to be glacial – if they move at all.
While Bogachev's story is occurring on a larger scale than most hacking incidents, it's hardly unique in terms of the complexities and challenges it illuminates as far as different countries and systems of justice. Instead of promoting cooperation among nations, the proliferation of global cyber criminal incidents often does an effective job of exacerbating existing tensions, or creating new ones. Perhaps the most illustrative example of this in recent months is the Sony hack. The hack – which emerged toward the end of 2014 and immediately became one of the year's biggest cyber crime stories – did its part to exacerbate already strained relations between the U.S. and North Korea. The tensions emerged after the FBI stated that North Korea had been behind the attack. Later it came out that the speed with which U.S. authorities were able to point the finger at North Korea had to do with an ongoing U.S.-led investigation into the country's hacker networks. Yet North Korea immediately denied the U.S.' claims that it had been behind the attack, with North Korea deputy U.N. ambassador An Myong Hun saying, in a very rare public address, "My country has nothing to do with the Sony hacking. It is out of sense to do that, and we very want United States to provide evidence."
Watching the fallout from the hack, the public witnessed something beyond just a cyber attack: Instead, the incident had brought tensions between two nations to the forefront of international conversations. That's quite a feat for a cyber attack that was, as investigators pointed out, carried out in a "sloppy" way. The fact that an admittedly sloppy attack so successfully brought out international tensions doesn't bode well for the future of cyber crime response – that is, if nations can't find a way to work together. But there are efforts underway to bring countries together and create a united front in the battle against cyber crime.
Pushing toward a global solution
Despite the delays and outright conflicts that can arise as a result of different defensive strategies across countries, there are agencies out there that are attempting to bridge national gaps. In doing so, these groups are effectively working toward the kind of global approach to cyber crime that will be more effective in keeping the proliferation of harmful malware and attacks at bay. Here are some of those groups:
- FBI: Officials within the FBI realize that the fight against cyber crime is necessarily an international one. Without cooperation and cohesion at a global level, we'll be one step behind the cyber criminals who are already working together in highly orchestrated global networks. That's why, in addition to its National Cyber Investigation Joint Task Force, – whose stated goal is to "support of the national effort to counter threats posed by terrorist, nation-state, and criminal cyber actors, each CTF synchronizes domestic cyber threat investigations in the local community through information sharing, incident response and joint enforcement and intelligence actions" – the FBI is also partially behind the creation of the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce.
- Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce & EC3: J-CAT isn't just an FBI effort. Though the agency did play a key role in helping to establish the group, J-CAT is hosted by the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol. To understand how J-CAT functions, therefore, it's imperative to look at the broader organization that hosts it. As the unifying law enforcement agency for the EU, Europol's mission isn't just to bring crime to justice across countries, but also to make various nations work together. In this way, the group – and specifically EC3 – was perfectly suited to host a globe-spanning cyber crime task force.
For its part, EC3 – which functions as the cyber version of Europol, i.e. a group whose authority transcends nations in the EU – is a very busy organization, with many successes to its name. Here are a few of those successes:
- Working alongside Spanish police, Europol officials were able to play a pivotal role in taking down an illegal call center scheme that was functioning in the cyber realm to carry out fraud via telecommunication. Because the Spanish police were able to work with Europol, the investigation into the cyber scheme took a very accelerated pace, and soon officials were delving into numerous documents with the goal of tearing down the criminal effort. They succeeded.
- In June, EC3 announced that it had successfully dismantled a man-in-the-middle scheme that had traversed different nations including Italy, Belgium and Spain. Had these countries individually tackled the problem using only nation-specific law enforcement, they likely wouldn't have been able to assemble the scope of investigation required to defeat the criminal group. But thanks to the presence of EC3 – and the border-spanning authority it has – law enforcement agencies were able to not only take the criminal group down, but also to arrest 49 individuals suspected of participating. What made this investigation so successful was the collaborative harmony that occurred between various law enforcement groups. Working in tandem, these justice entities were able to defeat an adversary that they most likely would not have been able to take down individually.
As the success of these investigations show, EC3 had already established itself as an important force that functions to transcend national barriers in an attempt to suppress cyber crime. But EC3's actions are limited to the EU. With the founding of J-CAT, however, the effort toward unified defense finally took on the global angle it needed. In addition to the standard EU member states, EC3 counts members from non-EU nations including the U.S., Australia and Canada.
As the group's website points out, J-CAT is designed to function in a way that unifies various legal entities in a streamlined way: "In order to actively fight cybercrime, the J-CAT chooses and prioritizes the cases to pursue. For that purpose, the different country liaison officers submit proposals on what could be investigated. The taskforce members then select the most relevant ones and proceed to share, collect and enrich data. They then develop an action plan, which is led by the country who submitted the chosen proposal. Finally, the J-CAT goes through all the necessary steps to make the case ready for action, which includes involving judicial actors, identifying the required resources and allocating responsibilities."
J-CAT represents a significant step in the right direction as far as the global battle as cyber crime goes. But it should by no means be where the effort at international collaboration ends. As the EC3's many successful efforts have illustrated, collaborative work among countries is one of the most effective ways to bring cyber criminals to justice. When nations create tensions between each other as a result of cyber crimes, they only embolden the hackers behind the attacks. That's why it's imperative to recognize that defeating cyber crime should be a common end goal for all countries.
With a strengthening global push toward cyber crime prevention, businesses should follow the lead of organizations like the FBI and Europol and look for ways to ramp up their security. Companies can help the global cyber security cause – and themselves – by rolling out cutting-edge security tools.