Infosec 2014: Cyber safety will take joint effort, says top EU cyber cop

Cyber security depends on the joint efforts of all stakeholders, says European Cybercrime Centre head

Cyber safety can be achieved only through the joint efforts of all stakeholders, not just law enforcement, says Troels Oerting, head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).

“We will win, a safe and secure internet will prevail, but it will be a tough ride, and can only be done if everyone works together,” he told the opening keynote at Infosecurity Europe 2014 in London.

Oerting also warned that malware is being developed at such a high rate that technological security controls alone are not enough to keep business and consumer data safe.

“About 70% of cyber attacks are carried out using malware that is not detected by 40 of the main anti-malware systems in use by business today,” he said.

Further evidence that traditional IT security tools are not working is the fact that cyber criminals were able to persist in company systems for an average of 229 days in 2013 before they were detected.

Because of the high-level use of social engineering by cyber criminals, businesses need to pay more attention to secure their supply chains and society in raising security awareness in internet users.

“Cybercriminals will use social engineering to go after lawyers, accountants and other business partners to gain access to the companies they are targeting,” said Oerting.

Phishing is one of the most popular tools used by attackers, both cyber criminals and hacktivists like the Syrian Electronic Army, he said.

“It takes just 28 phishing emails on average before attackers are able to gain access to targeted IT systems and move around at will,” said Oerting.

Many parts of the world, such as Europe, are highly dependent on the internet for innovation, growth and prosperity, so it must be protected, he said.

But law enforcement is facing several key challenges. Chief among these is the fact criminals no longer need to travel to commit crime and cannot be stopped at national borders.

“There is no longer any geographical link between the crime and the perpetrators, which means many of the traditional policing techniques do not work in cyberspace,” said Oerting.

This means criminals are typically not in the same country as where their crimes are carried out, making it difficult for law enforcement officials to investigate, identify suspects and make arrests.

“We have a good level of co-operation between EU member states, but criminals tend to operate in countries that do not have extradition treaties with the countries they are targeting,” said Oerting.

The second big challenge is that the top echelons of cyber criminals are increasingly using the so-called “dark web” where it is difficult to track and trace actors and their activities.

The use of electronic currencies is also making it increasingly difficult to “follow the money”, said Oerting.

Another challenge of cyber crime is that there is usually little or no physical evidence to work with. “And in the very near future, cyber criminals will be streaming everything through cloud services,” said Oerting.

This development, he said, will make it even more difficult to gather evidence and be able to attribute criminal actions to specific actors without any doubt.

For all these reasons, said Oerting, international co-operation is important around establishing norms of behaviour on the internet to keep it free and prevent it from becoming balkanised.

He believes all stakeholders need to work together to raise cyber security awareness and build the digital capacity of their police forces to help prevent and fight cyber crime.

In terms of cyber protection, he said products and services need to become more secure by design and end users need to be wary of downloading “free” applications.

“If something is free, that means users' information is the product, because in reality, nothing in life is entirely free,” said Oerting.

In the light of the challenges to law enforcement and traditional policing methods, he also believes that disruption is likely to become the most effective way to fight cyber crime.

“We need to prioritise criminal activity that is causing the most harm and look for ways of disrupting cyber criminal business models because prosecution is extremely difficult,” he said.

Oerting returned to his theme of collaboration, highlighting the various ways the EC3 is working with industry, government and security companies.

“On the 5 May we will see the launch of the EU Cybercrime Coalition, which will bring together more than 20 banks in the region to share information with each other and with us,” he said.

Cyber criminals tend to use the same tools and techniques to attack industry sectors, such as financial services, so it is important for these sectors to share information with their peers on attacks they are seeing, said Oerting.

While law enforcement is not seeing complete success, and Oerting admits he is concerned about the developments he is seeing, he remains optimistic that concerted action by all stakeholders will win out in the end.

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