Cybercrime bite is starting to hurt

Criminal use of technology is not only putting a serious dent in worldwide economic productivity, it’s also pushing police resources to the limit, according to one cybercrime expert.

Bill Bogart, vice-president in the global law enforcement program with EDS in Washington, D.C., was in Saskatoon recently to speak to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police about the issue at that group’s annual general meeting and conference. The security veteran said his message to them would be the same one he’s been telling the law enforcement community for years – that tackling cybercrime is fast becoming a number one priority, and it is one of the most difficult tasks facing them.

“Cybercrime is all new. It’s not replacing something, it’s come as fast as the technology has. I kid about the term, but there aren’t that many sheriffs on the information highway,” Bogart said.

There are more than enough criminals, however. Causing mayhem on computer networks is nothing new, starting with the days of the lone programmer hacking for kicks. But Bogart said that has steadily evolved into today’s much more organized – and dangerous – hacker networks.

Bogart points to the Code Red worm, already estimated to have caused at least US$3 billion in lost productivity worldwide, as the work of well-organized experts.

“That is probably one of the most devastating activities we’ve seen on the Internet,” he said.

Perhaps more disturbing is the growing appeal of technology in organized crime circles.

According to Bogart, groups in Russia and Eastern Europe, the Mafia and South American drug cartels regularly use the Internet to transfer money wirelessly across borders, manipulate the stock market and communicate with each other anonymously.

As well, human smugglers are creating sophisticated network links to coordinate everything from ship landings to payments.

“The Internet and the ability to do electronic banking almost anywhere in the world. Not only has it expedited commerce and the economy, it’s also assisted those involved in illegal transfers,” he said.

The mix of organized crime and high-tech has even created a new brand of criminal activity Bogart calls cyberextortion – holding sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, for ransom. It’s one he said will quickly outstrip viruses as the number one cybercrime threat.

However, not all of Bogart’s message in Saskatoon was so grim. He has nothing but praise for the private sector and police forces, which he said are spending the time and money required to help police track down cybercriminals – even at the risk of public embarrassment.

He also lauded the Canadian government for taking the problem seriously.

“I think Canada has certainly done a much better job than the U.S.,” he said. “I think in Canada the government is very committed to e-government, e-commerce, whatever term you want to use.”