Bordering on a crisis in global crime

If you’ve been watching BBC drama, McMafia, you know how hard it is for law enforcement to track and convict members of well-funded, cross-border organised-crime syndicates, writes Rupert Bowen.

You’ll have learned the connections between smuggling drugs and illegal goods, money laundering, corruption, and human-trafficking. In McMafia, a chocolate vending machine is a backdoor into a container port’s freight-movement system. An IT expert has been coerced into helping exploit the system to steal a container of drugs.

In other scenarios, hackers are hired for a ransomware attack. Or an employee can be corrupted to hand over a password. Often, an insider-criminal collaboration is the simplest and weakest link.

Law enforcement follow two main strategies: disrupt operations of cybercriminals, and follow the money and identify the players and bring them to justice.

Campaigns to raise awareness of compromised business emails help. Awareness-building of the risks of phishing and malware also have some effect.

However, the international nature of cybercrime, financial crime, and money-laundering, human-trafficking and internet-based illicit trade and sexual exploitation of children creates a challenge for law enforcement.

The victim may be in country A, a criminal individual or gang in countries B, C and D, but the proceeds cashed out in another jurisdiction. Added to this, some low-tax countries and regions not only attract legitimate businesses and wealthy people, but also criminals and economic crime. Well-known Irish organised crime figures might be officers of companies incorporated in Cyprus, Panama, or Brazil, but live in Dubai or Spain.

Most criminal investigations now involve digital evidence. Some 10% of cases seen by Irish criminal-assets investigators include Darknet and cryptocurrencies.

There is a huge need for investigative skills and knowledge in this field. Yet, investment to protect and respond lags behind.

In its ‘Global Risks Report, 2018’, the World Economic Forum asserts “the take-down of a single cloud provider could cause $50bn to $120bn of economic damage, a loss somewhere between Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.”

It’s no surprise there is a cyber/digital investigation skills crisis in law enforcement. Officers are moving from defence forces and police into well-paid jobs in industry and consulting. If they prefer to remain in law enforcement, there are opportunities to move to Europol or Interpol, or one of the other international justice agencies.

UCD has been working with law enforcement for 20 years. Through training and education, including distance-learning masters programmes, UCD has helped give 2,500 law-enforcement officers, from 60 countries, the skills, tools, and knowledge to combat cybercrime and investigate crimes where there is digital evidence.

The internationalisation of organised crime means investigators benefit from an understanding of procedures in other jurisdications and from global law-enforcement contacts. Sharing their experiences in UCD international education programmes gives them that network and those skills.

We know of many crimes that have been solved as a result.

The sophistication of organised criminal networks, and the technologies and techniques that they use to perpetrate and hide their crimes, mean that courses must be constantly updated. The learning never ends.

- Rupert Bowen is international postgraduate liaison in the UCD Centre for Cybersecurity and Cybercrime Investigation.

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