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Cyber Crime: Transparency Can Help

Detecting cyber crime on the Internet is often a Sisyphean task for both the police and IT experts. This article explains why it is extremely important to report even the most minor incidents.

“A further increase has been observed in the number of professional cyber attacks on the Internet,” writes the Swiss Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) in its report on combating criminality. This is consistent with other recent analyses – one such report, for example, estimated that global revenues from cyber crime have now outstripped those of organized drug dealing.

Whether it’s spammers disseminating malware, professional hackers stealing confidential data and blackmailing companies, or our neighbor hijacking our private webcam, criminality on the Internet has many faces. Thanks to the spread of smartphones, web applications, wireless payment systems and other tech tools, criminals have countless opportunities to steal, commit fraud and manipulate.

"Cleverer and more insidious"

The fact that these crimes happen in the chaotic space that is the Internet and it is often difficult to identify the perpetrators makes it doubly important to report incidents to the police immediately. “The tricks employed by cyber criminals and Internet fraudsters are becoming cleverer and more insidious all the time. They exploit their apparent anonymity on the Internet shamelessly,” explains Andreas Eugster, a cyber crime investigator at the Zug police force.

Once a report has been submitted, the police’s work is like a jigsaw puzzle, Eugster says: “First of all, IT Forensics properly stores the electronic trail left by the cyber criminals and prepares it for further investigations and use in court. It is almost always necessary to work together with external government agencies, as cyber criminals rarely stop at national borders.”

How the cyber mafia is operating

Vice President of IBM Security Caleb Barlow explains in his TED talk the latest procedures of the highly organized cyber criminals and what exactly is behind it.

Transparency is key

Although it is entirely understandable that someone whose private information is at stake may be reluctant to go to the police, filing a report is essential. This transparency helps the police to adapt their investigations to the changing technical conditions and to link different cases, says cyber crime investigator Eugster. Suspected cyber offences can be reported to the police just as you would something as simple as a stolen wallet. In Switzerland, such incidents can also be registered with Fedpol using this form.

For businesses too, transparency towards partners and customers is the key to reducing the damage. The German IT industry association Bitkom has worked out that fifty percent of companies in Germany have been hacked – often without even noticing. As businesses are usually worried about their image being damaged or losing customers, they are often reluctant to publicize their weaknesses. Experience shows, however, that the tolerance of those affected is higher if companies communicate openly from the outset.

We all need to do our bit

The fact is that the perpetrators can only be caught if the crime is reported. Furthermore, developers of security tools are reliant on knowledge of the methods employed, the identity of the victims and the purpose of the attacks. When it comes to combating cyber crime, exchange of information is therefore vital. Everyone can and should do their bit – after all, no less than our security and our privacy are at stake.